|Name||Lester B. Pearson|
Toronto, Ontario , Canada
|| April 23, 1897
|Died||December 27, 1972
Jan 01, 2007 03:30pm
Liberal - Methodist -
|Info||Lester Bowles "Mike" Pearson, PC, OM, CC, OBE, MA, LL.D. |
Lester B. Pearson was a Canadian statesman, diplomat, politician, and 1957 Nobel Laureate. He served as the 14th Prime Minister of Canada from 1963 to 1968.
Pearson was born in Newtonbrook, Ontario. He entered Victoria College at the University of Toronto in 1914, where he lived in residence in Gate House and shared a room with his brother Duke. At the university, he became a noted athlete, excelling in hockey and rugby. As he was too young to enlist in the army when the First World War broke out in 1914, he instead volunteered for the medical corps, where he served two years in Egypt and Greece. In 1916, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, where he served until being sent home in 1917, as the result of a bus accident. It was as a pilot that he received the nickname of "Mike," given to him by a flight instructor who felt that "Lester" was too weak a name for an airman.
After the war, he received his BA from the University of Toronto in 1919. Upon receiving a scholarship, he studied at Oxford University, where he received a BA in modern history in 1923 and an MA in 1925. In 1925, he married Maryon Moody, with whom he had one daughter, Patricia and one son, Geoffrey.
After Oxford, he returned to Canada and taught history at the University of Toronto, where he also coached the men's hockey team. He then embarked on a career in the Department of External Affairs. He had a distinguished career as a diplomat, playing an important part in founding both the UN and NATO. In 1948, Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent appointed Pearson Minister of External Affairs in the Liberal government. Shortly afterward, he won a seat in the House of Commons for the riding of Algoma East. In 1957, for his role in defusing the Suez Crisis through the UN, Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The selection committee claimed that Pearson had "saved the world." Pearson is considered the father of the modern concept of peacekeeping. He would soon be nominated for secretary-general of the United Nations.
He was elected leader of the Liberal Party at its 1958 leadership convention but his party was badly routed in the election of that year. In the 1962 election, he reduced the incumbent PC Party of John Diefenbaker to a minority government.
Pearson led the Liberals to a minority government in the 1963 general election, and became prime minister. He had campaigned during the election promising "60 Days of Decision" and support for the Bomarc missile program.
Pearson never had a majority in the House of Commons, but he introduced important social programs that Canadians hold dear, including universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, and Canada Student Loans. Other actions included instituting the 40-hour work week, two weeks vacation time, and a new minimum wage. Canada's signature Maple Leaf flag was also introduced during Pearson's term in office. Pearson signed the Canada-United States Automotive Agreement (or Auto Pact) in January of 1965, and unemployment fell to its lowest rate in over a decade.
While in office, Pearson resisted US pressure to enter the Vietnam War. Pearson spoke at Temple University on April 2, 1965, and voiced his support for a negotiated settlement to the Vietnam War. When he visited President Lyndon Johnson the next day, Johnson berated Pearson. According to legend, Johnson grabbed Pearson by the lapels, shook him, and shouted "Dammit, Les, I don't piss on your rug, so don't you piss on my rug!"
Pearson also started a number of Royal Commissions, including one on the status of women and another on bilingualism. They instituted changes that helped create legal equality for women, and brought official bilingualism into being. After Pearson's term, French was made an official language. Pearson had hoped that he would be the last unilingual Prime Minister and indeed, fluency in both languages became an unofficial requirement for Prime Ministeral candidates after Pearson left office.
Pearson oversaw Canada's centennial celebrations in 1967. Also in 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle made a visit to Quebec. During that visit, de Gaulle advocated Quebec separatism, going so far as to say that his procession in Montreal reminded him of his return to Paris after it was freed from the Nazis. Given Canada's efforts in aid of France during both world wars, Pearson was enraged. He rebuked de Gaulle in a speech the following day, remarking that "Canadians do not need to be liberated" and making it clear that de Gaulle was no longer welcome in Canada.
Pearson announced his retirement from politics on December 14, 1967 and a leadership convention was held to replace him as Liberal leader and Prime Minister. Pearson's successor was Pierre Trudeau, a man whom Pearson had recruited and made Minister of Justice in his cabinet. Two other Pearson recruits, John Turner and Jean Chrétien, served as prime ministers in the years following Trudeau's retirement.
Pearson became a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, as well as the school's chancellor. In 1968, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1971, he was awarded the Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth II.
Pearson died of cancer in Ottawa on December 27, 1972, and was buried in the nearby Gatineau Hills in the MacLaren Cemetery, Wakefield, Quebec.