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Pearson, Eric John (1918–1977)

by Bruce Mitchell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Eric John Pearson (1918-1977), teacher and trade-union leader, was born on 6 May 1918 at Armidale, New South Wales, seventh child of native-born parents Herbert Henry Pearson, farmer, and his wife Hilda Maud, née Arentz. Eric attended Armidale High School. At Teachers' College, Armidale, he trained (1935-36) for one-teacher bush schools. He was appointed teacher-in-charge of Furracabad, near Glen Innes, in February 1937, and was transferred in May to Duck Creek Upper, which he later referred to as 'Up-a-duck Creek'. After eighteen months he was moved to Wylie Creek where he remained for three years.

On 9 January 1942 Pearson enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. At the Methodist Church, Liston, on 13 February 1943 he married Evelyn Winifred Crome, a 19-year-old nurse. As an infantryman in the 2nd/33rd Battalion he saw action (September to December 1943) in New Guinea. In 1944-46 he was a sergeant, Australian Army Education Service: attached to 25th Brigade headquarters, he served in Australia and Borneo. He was discharged from the army on 18 January 1946.

After the war Pearson taught in primary schools in Sydney and studied in the evenings at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1952; M.A., 1958). He obtained second-class honours in psychology and a Blue (1948) for Rugby Union; he was to remain a keen supporter of Sydney University Football Club. Promoted deputy-headmaster at Gordon in 1951, he was appointed lecturer in education at Teachers' College, Wagga Wagga, in 1952. Pearson gained his masterate in psychology, then entered Birkbeck College, University of London (Ph.D., 1960). Back in New South Wales, he lectured (1961-64) at Teachers' College, Armidale. From 1965 until his death he taught at Teachers' College, Sydney, becoming head of education in 1973. A widower, on 9 January 1964 at St Margaret's Presbyterian Church, Turramurra, he had married Joan Pauline Myers, née Roseby, a 42-year-old receptionist and a divorcee.

Throughout his professional career Pearson was a passionate activist in the New South Wales Teachers' Federation. After returning to Sydney in 1965, he led the lecturers' association through a difficult time when teachers' colleges were transformed into autonomous colleges of advanced education. It was also a period of increased radicalism, marked by the teachers' strike in 1968 and several others in the following years. Pearson emerged as a leader of the younger and more radical teachers. He was president of the N.S.W.T.F. (1974-75) and of the Australian Teachers' Federation (1974). He fought his campaigns with integrity and determination. Over six feet (183 cm) tall, he wore small-framed glasses and had a distinctive, if mannered, style of oratory. He frequently used wit and humour to destroy an opponent's case, but was never personal in his attacks.

Pearson's radical public stands against the Vietnam War and the dismissal of the Whitlam government upset many in his beloved Roseville sub-branch of the Returned Services League of Australia. Yet, he was conservative in some ways. He dressed in dark, three-piece suits, and was a traditionalist on most social and moral issues. Survived by his wife, and by the son and daughter of his first marriage, he died of leukemia on 8 June 1977 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Mitchell, Teachers, Education and Politics (Brisb, 1975)
  • Education, 22 June, 6 July 1977
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6, 11 Dec 1973, 10 June 1977
  • teachers' records (New South Wales Department of Education, Sydney).

Citation details

Bruce Mitchell, 'Pearson, Eric John (1918–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/pearson-eric-john-11359/text20291, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 May 2019.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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