In Memoriam: Colleague pays tribute to Allen Pearson

His many friends and colleagues were deeply saddened this week to learn that former Dean of Education Dr. Allen Pearson has died. Those who had seen him in recent months knew he was not well but his death earlier this week at his home here in London was nevertheless unexpected.

Allen was one of the faculty’s longest-serving deans. He came to us in 1995 from the University of Alberta and served as dean until 2007. He continued as a full-time faculty member until his retirement in 2010, after which he was appointed professor emeritus and adjunct research professor, and continued to be actively involved at Western in a variety of ways. Indeed, one hardly knows where to begin in acknowledging Allen’s contributions to the Faculty of Education and to Western as a whole.

Allen was a philosopher of education. He had degrees from Colgate and Cornell, and had been a Visiting Scholar at the University of London and at Harvard. As a member of the Policy Studies group in this faculty, even as dean, he taught the Social Foundations course in our BEd program. When the faculty decided that the practicum was a responsibility of all faculty members, Allen, along with the rest of us, accepted responsibility for teacher candidates and their associate teachers at a local school. By all accounts, he was a great success in the role.

Many current faculty members were appointed during Allen’s tenure as dean, and many partnered with him in teaching BEd courses, graduate courses or PhD seminars, and served with him on graduate student committees. He is widely remembered as supportive and sound of judgment. Those who taught with him in particular will miss him deeply.

One of Allen’s most significant accomplishments as dean was shepherding a proposal for a PhD program through the program development and approval processes. The establishment of the PhD in the mid-1990s fundamentally changed the future of the Faculty of Education and is surely one of Allen’s most significant legacies.

Allen was widely known at Western as a dean who made significant contributions to the broader university community. When the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association (UWOFA) was first certified, Allen served with senior university administrators on the very first negotiating team. Despite the enormous number of hours negotiating teams must be prepared to spend, Allen served at least two more times – because he was a valued and respected negotiator, and because he believed in serving when and where he was needed. He was also active on Senate, chairing the Operations/Agenda Committee for a number of years.

The dean of a faculty governed by the university, but which must also satisfy the requirements and expectations of local school boards, Ministry of Education and Ontario College of Teachers, must at times be able to manage somewhat competing interests. Allen navigated these waters well. Over the years of his tenure, the faculty’s relationships with local school boards were strengthened and deepened, another legacy that continues to help ensure the success and well-being of the faculty.

One of Allen’s favourite associations, before and after retiring, was with Western’s Teaching Support Centre. Allen was appointed a Faculty Associate for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and in that capacity worked to help faculty members across the university engage in scholarly work on their teaching. Allen was instrumental in helping to establish the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, which is housed here at Western, and served on its editorial board for five years.

Allen was highly collegial, enjoying equally the company of faculty members and staff. He ate with faculty members in the lunch room every day, stepped outside every few hours for “fresh air” with a staff assistant and joined a few staff and faculty members who formed a group to practice and play recorder flutes. He was genuine, totally without pretension. All remember him not only for his intellect but also for his good nature, gentleness, kindness and humility.

As for me, I had known Allen when we were both at the University of Alberta in the 1980s. There he taught philosophy of education and, for several years, served as Assistant Dean of Practicum. I took great pleasure at his retirement party here at Western in telling everyone that at the U of A he had been known only as ‘Al’ Pearson – a nickname, he had told me, he hated.

Here in London, Allen lived downtown on Albert Street and I would occasionally see him at Starbucks. It was always a pleasure to catch up with his latest activities – sailing with family members off the Eastern Seaboard, fundraising for the NDP – he was never at a loss for something significant to do; he always had a smile and something funny to share.

Anyone who knew Allen found his wit and sense of humour as sharp as his intellect. For this and so many other reasons, we will remember him with enormous fondness and great respect.

Margaret McNay is the Associate Dean, Teacher Education, in the Faculty of Education.

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A memorial service for Allen Pearson is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, June 14, in the Chapel at Huron University College, 1349 Western Road. In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made in Allen’s memory to help support students at the Faculty of Education. To donate, visit, call 519-661-4200 or mail donations to Karmen Dowling, Western University, Suite 110, Westminster Hall, London, ON, Canada.