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Lennart Pearson

January 2013

Lennart Pearson, Emeritus Librarian and Professor of Religion at Presbyterian College, passed away in late September of 2012.  Dr. Pearson had an inquiring mind. He was a well educated man who sought knowledge and understanding in a variety of fields.

Dr. Lennart Pearson outside Thomason Library
Dr. Lennart Pearson outside Thomason Library

His curiosity and quest for knowledge took him from the halls of Wheaton College near Chicago, where he earned a BA in English, to graduate studies at Union Theological Seminary (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) in Richmond, Virginia where he earned Masters degrees in Divinity and Theology, as well as a Doctorate of Ministry.  His third Masters degree was completed at UNC-Chapel Hill in Library Science.  Later in life he took Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church.

In 1968, Lennart Pearson’s many talents came together at Presbyterian College where he was hired as Head Librarian.  At that time the PC Library was housed in Smith Administration Building on Broad Street, sharing its space and collections with the city library.  The college bought the city’s share in the library  and Dr. Pearson was given the charge of planning and executing the construction of a new library building at the center of the college campus.  The groundbreaking ceremony was held on January 18, 1973.  Through diligence, attention to detail, and the generosity of  James H. Thomason, the new library was dedicated on September 24, 1974.  I had the privilege of working for Dr. Pearson in the Circulation department from 1981 until his retirement in 1997.

Dr. Pearson’s love of music, especially sacred music, led to the installation of speakers in the outer lobby of the James H. Thomason Library during construction of the building.  From his office adjacent to the front doors, he could play music in the outer lobby, whether Christmas carols, Danish hymns, or Gregorian chants, depending on the season and his mood.  This interest led him to research sacred music texts and publish scholarly articles in The Hymn [April 1994] and Reformed Liturgy and Music [Summer 1975].  The Lennart Pearson Sacred Choral Music Endowment for the purchase of choral music compact discs was established at the Thomason Library in his honor upon his retirement in 1997 by colleagues and friends.

In addition to overseeing library operations, Dr. Pearson was called upon to teach Old and New Testament courses for PC’s Religion department, continuing in this capacity after his retirement from the library until 2001.  Of Swedish descent, he knew the language well and when PC students periodically expressed interest in studying Swedish, Dr. Pearson was the “go-to professor” for the Modern Language department.

Illuminated text by Lennart Pearson
Illuminated text by Lennart Pearson

Dr. Pearson’s early interest in calligraphy yielded many detailed images and Christmas cards through the years.  The illuminated text [shown left] hung on the wall of Dr. Pearson’s office for many years.  When I remarked on its beauty, he gave it to me.

Pearson’s poetry – Click images to enlarge
Pearson’s poetry – Click images to enlarge

During his service at the Church of the Nativity in nearby Union, South Carolina (1991-2000),  Dr. Pearson wrote and mailed a monthly parish newsletter full of church news and diocese information in order to keep parishioners informed.  These newsletters were compiled into a book in 2002, News from Nativity, which also contained “original essays, poems, sermon summaries, opinion, cartoons, and a miscellany of articles, some serious, some tongue-in-cheek.”  In his words, “it was a curious variety not usually found in church newsletters…a creative venture in desktop publishing that came to an end with the death of the photocopier on which it had been run.”

At the Church of the Nativity, one of his parishioners mentioned that Nativity was a replica of a church in Great Britain.  Dr. Pearson’s subsequent research did not substantiate the claim, but in the process he discovered that there were other Episcopal churches that had astonishingly similar architecture to Nativity.  His research on the architect of the Church of the Nativity led to published articles about Frank Wills in the South Carolina Historical Magazine [July 1999] and The Historiographer, a publication of National Episcopal Historians and Archivists [Lent 2003] .

On another occasion, Dr. Pearson wondered why a textbook of the English language was published in two editions in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1875 and 1877.  He investigated the need for this “kind of survival manual” and the author of the book, publishing an article on the emigration of Lutherans from Iceland to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada between 1870-1890 in Lutheran Quarterly [Autumn 1995].

Research questions usually accompanied him on his travels abroad, whether in solving the architecture mystery, traveling to Iceland, or visiting the British Railway Museum to learn more about an artist.  Dr. Pearson was also quick to share his research and sermons with others, often leaving a copy of his sermon on the pulpit or his publications on a table in the church.

Clearly, Dr. Pearson was a multi-talented individual who had a global range of interests with a wonderful sense of humor thrown into the mix.

The final portion of a lengthy resolution made in Dr. Pearson’s honor on April 24, 1997 by the Faculty of Presbyterian College upon the occasion of his retirement reads. . .

. . . WHEREAS everyone who knows him shall sorely miss his inexhaustible stream of good humor and bad jokes;

AND WHEREAS we acknowledge and affirm his warm sympathy, his infinite compassion, his dedication to this college, and his devotion to his God;

BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED that the Faculty of Presbyterian College convey their most profound respect, and honor Lennart Pearson by adopting this resolution to express their gratitude and congratulations for a career marked by exemplary excellence for service to this college.

Photographer Will Landon, Dr. Pearson’s brother-in-law, recently donated a copy of a photograph [shown below] to the James H. Thomason Library in memory of Lennart Pearson.  This serene landscape now hangs in a high traffic area on the upper level of the library.

<em>The Dunes</em>, Will Landon, 2002
The Dunes, Will Landon, 2002

Dr. Pearson often spent time meditating on a bench on the plaza in front of the library.  On a sunny day there was an excellent chance colleagues and students could find him out front quietly contemplating his next research project.