Friday, October 18, 2013

Lester Bowles Pearson aka Mike

Image from nobelprize.org

Lester Bowles Pearson was an academic. He entered the University of Toronto at age 16. Though he was too young to volunteer as a soldier, his education was interrupted by service in World War I. First a volunteer in a hospital unit in England, Greece and Egypt, he later managed to get transferred to the Royal Flying Corps.

Invalided home, Pearson studied while he served as a flying instructor. He had been nicknamed "Mike" by his flying instructor, and the name stuck.

After the war, Pearson won a fellowship to Oxford. There, he excelled in history as well as in ice hockey and lacrosse. His education completed, he began teaching at the U of T in 1928. Later he went to work for the Ministry of External Affairs, and during the thirties, he participated in several international conferences as well as the League of Nations.

Canada's first Nobel Laureate for Peace, Pearson became known for devising an effective way to solve the Suez Crisis of 1956 when Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser nationalized the Canal.

Since 1869, it had been operated by the Anglo-French Suez Canal Company and England and France, wanted the status quo to continue. Within days, the two nations prepared to invade the Canal Zone.

The situation heated up as Israel joined in the plotting and Britain and France and began to drop bombs. At this critical juncture, Pearson turned to the International Peacekeeping Forces. He proposed sending an emergency force, working under the aegis of the UN, to police the Canal Zone while the invading nations withdrew.

In 1948, Pearson became the undersecretary of state for External Affairs under the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent. When the party was defeated in 1957, he became Leader of the Opposition and prepared the Liberals for victory at the next election, which followed Diefenbaker's  mandate and the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When Pearson became Prime Minister, his foreign policy was based on internationalism. At home, he implemented legislation that had been a long time in the planning, Medicare and Old Age Pensions. He also declared a "war on poverty," and put in place financial support for higher education.

Canada was getting close to a hundred years old and still using the British Red Ensign, with the Union Jack in the corner. Pearson involved the country in the flag designing contest and a vociferous debate that resulted in the adoption of the Maple Leaf Flag.

Pearson is remembered with respect and affection by Canadians, and many cultural, academic and educational institutions bear his name. Pearson Airport in Toronto is named after "Mike," and on the Alberta-Montana border, he is honoured for his involvment in creating an International Peace Park where Canadian and American parks meet. (Waterton Lakes-Glacier).The peace park has since become a UNESCO Heritage site.

Pearson College in Victoria, an international school which he conceived of before his death, is a memorial to him as well. This institution of learning offers full scholarships for an International Baccalaureate Program to students from around the world who "are dedicated to making change happen in diverse and powerful ways," those who "share a determination to make a difference and work in their communities as a positive force for peace." (website)

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