Lester Bowles Pearson
The Right Honourable Lester Bowles "Mike" Pearson (April 23, 1897 - December 27, 1972) was the fourteenth Prime Minister of Canada from April 22, 1963, to April 20, 1968 and 1957 Nobel Laureate.
He was born in Newtonbrook, Ontario (now part of Toronto), the son of a Methodist preacher. 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. While at the university he became a noted athlete, excelling at both ice hockey and rugby. His studies were interrupted, however, when in 1916 he decided to enlist in the Canadian air force and fight in the First World War. After the war, he returned to school receiving his B.A. from the University of Toronto in 1919. He went on to Oxford University, where he received a B.A. in modern history in 1923 and an M.A. in 1925. In 1925 he also married Maryon Moody (1902-1991), with whom he had one daughter and one son.
After Oxford he returned to Canada and taught history at the University of Toronto before embarking on a career in the Department of External Affairs. In 1948 he was made foreign minister in the government of Liberal Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, running for a seat in the House of Commons shortly afterward. In 1957, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in defusing the Suez Crisis through the United Nations. The United Nations Peacekeeping Force was Pearson's creation and he is considered the father of the modern concept of peacekeeping.
He was elected leader of the party at the 1958 Liberal leadership convention, but his party was badly routed in the election of that year. In the 1962 Canadian election, his party reduced the Progressive Conservatives of John George Diefenbaker to a minority government. Pearson became Prime Minister as a result of the 1963 general election as leader of a minority government which had campaigned during the election promising "60 Days of Decision" as well as supporting the Bomarc missile program. Pearson never had a majority in the Canadian House of Commons, but he introduced important social programs (including universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, and Canada Student Loans), the maple leaf flag, and new initiatives in French-English relations. He also oversaw Canada's 1967 centennial celebrations before retiring, and resisted American pressure to enter the Vietnam war. Pearson spoke at Temple University in 1965 and voiced his support for a negotiated settlement to the war. When he visited US President Lyndon Baines Johnson at his Texas ranch hours later, Johnson reportedly grabbed Pearson by the lapels and shook him in frustration (When LBJ died in 1973, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who served as a Pearson cabinet minister and became prime minister when Johnson was still president, did not mention the incident. Neither did the Senate government leader, Paul Martin Sr., who also served as a Pearson cabinet minister. They commended the friendship between the two; Trudeau called LBJ a person who was "larger than life." Martin said that the relationship between the two leaders "were satisfactory and cordial.").
The Pearson Cabinet contained many young men who would go on to become prominent figures in the Liberal Party. In particular, cabinet ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner, and Jean Chrétien all would serve as Prime Minister in the years following Pearson's retirement. His administration instituted the modern welfare state.
After retiring from politics, Pearson became a professor of international relations at Carleton University in Ottawa. In 1968 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.
Pearson died of cancer in Ottawa on December 27, 1972, and was buried in the nearby Gatineau Hills in the MacLaren Cemetery, Wakefield, Quebec. In 1984 his successor, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, renamed Toronto International Airport to Pearson International Airport in his honour.
Pearson is also honored by a United World College, the Lester B. Pearson College in Victoria, British Columbia, the Lester B. Pearson School Board in Montreal, and the National Hockey League's Lester B. Pearson Award to the most valuable player as judged by his peers. His favourite sport was baseball and the Pearson Cup, awarded to the winner of an annual contest between the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays, is named after him.
In 2004, Lester Pearson was voted #6 of The "Greatest Canadians" by viewers of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
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