UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Lester B. Pearson

Biography examines the human elements of a former PM's diplomacy

By Kenneth Bagnell

Lester B. Pearson
By Andrew Cohen
Penguin ($26)

There’s little doubt that Lester B. Pearson was among the most accomplished of Canada’s prime ministers. Quite an achievement for a modest, easygoing man who sometimes seemed out of place in the cut-and-thrust of partisan politics. His acts  as prime minister from 1963 to 1968, now recalled in Andrew Cohen’s gracefully written biography, seem more laudable as time goes by: the Canada Pension Plan, the Medicare Act, federal bilingualism, the Canadian flag, the abolition of capital punishment and much more.

Pearson was not just a son of the manse but a grandson; both his father and grandfather were Methodist ministers. Of Pearson’s parents, Cohen quotes what Pearson himself wrote: “There is nothing but joy and thanksgiving in my memory of two fine, saintly characters. It is not possible to assess, though it is to acknowledge, how much I owe to them.” His minister father was not a narrow idealogue on theology, politics or social policy. He loved sports, playing baseball with his three boys after Sunday service. This probably led to Lester’s becoming an athlete in university, as both player and coach in baseball, football and hockey.

Cohen — a former foreign correspondent, now professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University — clearly admires his subject. For example, Pearson (like his father) was open to seeing and respecting most sides of a complex issue. Of Pearson’s years as a diplomat before politics, Cohen asks: “What were the human elements of Pearson’s diplomacy? Patience, empathy, and the ability to understand another’s reality.” These qualities helped Pearson become the chair of the United Nations working committee that oversaw the establishment of the state of Israel.

There’s only one claim to question in this biography. In an early chapter, Cohen writes that in adulthood, Pearson moved away from Methodism philosophically. Maybe, if you believe Methodism is mostly about church attendance and nostalgia for hymns, which Cohen suggests may have comforted Pearson in turbulent times. But Methodism taken philosophically is about more than that. It’s about social obligation, human decency and progressive principles. Those aspects remained the very foundation of Pearson’s entire life.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image