Sunday, August 13, 2000

Former MU president Pearson dies

Legacy includes keeping in touch with students

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        OXFORD With his miner's helmet and waist-high waders, former Miami University president Paul G. Pearson made quite the sight.

Paul G. Pearson
Paul G. Pearson
        But his unusual outfit was an indication of how much he loved keeping in touch with students — so much so that he would take his zoology class frog hunting late at night.

        Dr. Pearson, 73, the school's 18th president who served from 1981-1992, died of cancer Saturday morning. He had undergone surgery for prostate cancer in September 1991.

        “He loved his teaching and he loved just being around undergraduates,” said Ed Demske, who was Dr. Pearson's vice president of business affairs. “He and his wife would go and eat in the dining halls, the fraternities and sororities — anywhere they could be with students. He even tutored a student assistant in my office one-on-one.”

        Dr. Pearson was hired as president after serving as vice president at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and immediately tried to increase diversity among the 19,000-student school, which included the main Oxford campus and branches in Hamilton and Middletown.

        The school was later recognized nationally for its efforts.

        “He said it was possible to not make any allowances and still get quality minority students, and he was right,” said Myrtis Powell, who was hired as Dr. Pearson's executive assistant and later became vice president for student affairs.

        But as much as Dr. Pearson was remembered for his connection with students, he was also credited with build ing ties with the rest of Oxford.

        Miami officials began meeting regularly with city and business leaders during Dr. Pearson's tenure, and he regularly attended Saturday coffee sessions at a local restaurant.

        He also was committed to keeping up the campus' idyllic appearance by maintaining the school's buildings.

        “Even during budget crunches he would say that we can't forget our responsibility to maintain the physical legacy of the school,” Mr. Demske said. Miami's new biological sciences building was named for him.

        Graduation rates increased 15 percent and freshman applications increased 18 percent during Dr. Pearson's tenure, while private support for the school increased fivefold. And the university launched a $100 million fund-raising campaign that was eventually successful.

        “Miami University and the Oxford community have lost a great friend and leader,” said current Miami president James C. Garland. “We have all benefited by his wise counsel and will miss him greatly.”

        Dr. Pearson is survived by his wife, Winifred; two sons, Thomas Pearson of Atlanta and Andrew Pearson of Louisville; a daughter, Jean McCabe of London, England; and seven grandchildren.

        A receiving line is scheduled for 5-8 p.m. Monday at the Oxford United Methodist Church, 14 N. Poplar St. The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the church, followed by a private burial.

        Smith and Ogle Funeral Home in Oxford is in charge of arrangements.


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