In Remembrance: John T. R. Pierson ’62MA Died on November 18 2018

John Trumbull Robinson Pierson died on November 18, 2018, in Rockport, Maine. He was 81 years old. He was the son of Gertrude Trumbull Robinson (1908–1994) and John Herman Groesbeck Pierson (1906–2001).  He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Karen Zamecnik Pierson; daughters Eliza Trumbull Pierson, Katherine Zamecnik Pierson, Isabella Pierson Feracci; sons-in-law Jeff Conaway and Martin Feracci; and grandchildren Freya Beatrice Pierson Grant and Alastair Cornelius Pierson Conaway.  He was predeceased by his sister, Elizabeth Groesbeck Pierson Friend.  The cause of death was complications due to frontotemporal dementia. 

John was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on March 17, 1937, Saint Patrick’s Day.  So he was known in the family as Paddy.  And when he was 5 years old and visiting family friends in an apartment overlooking 5th Avenue he watched the St. Patrick’s Day parade and thought it was for his birthday. 

He came from a long line of Yankee Brahmins and was expected to follow in their footsteps to Yale where two colleges were named after his ancestors.  Always independent minded, he went to Harvard and further dismayed his family when he took ballet in freshman year.  He had fallen in love with a ballet dancer in Bangkok whom he met while visiting his father in summer of freshman year.  He was a graduate of Exeter (1955), Harvard (1959), and Yale (MA in history, 1961). He said that he squandered his Harvard education skylarking with friends—sending slingshots of water balloons from his room on the third floor of Adams House across Mount Auburn Street to Lowell House courtyard.  One prank found him climbing the tower of St. Paul’s Church to hang out a pair of undies.  And in his last year at Harvard he thought his senior thesis was so bad that he invited friends to a party to throw it into the fireplace.  But he did develop a passion for literature and writing.  And he made writing his profession.  His friendships he maintained with frequent communications until he could no longer use the computer or telephone.

He became a journalist writing first at the Plattsburgh Press Republican in Plattsburgh, New York, and then going to Washington DC to write for UPI.  He worked for the Wall Street Journal for 30 years starting in 1967, first covering the House Ways and Means Committee in Congress.  He was the WSJ White House correspondent during the terms of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.  His coverage of Nixon and the Watergate hHearings earned him a place on Nixon’s enemies list.  That was an honor he relished.

In 1980 he moved with his wife Karen and three small daughters to Woodstock, Vermont, to enjoy an outdoor life on the family farm.  He enjoyed mowing fields and chopping wood for the stoves in their house.  And he continued to write half time for the WSJ.  He wrote also for Fortune and Forbes magazines.  He served on the Woodstock School Board and the Connecticut River Watershed Council.  And he taught the farm hired man how to read.  Missing the camaraderie of working in a newsroom, he took a job at the Valley News in Lebanon, New Hampshire. 

A project that he shared with his father was reforesting a beautiful remote tract of land on the Cycladic island of Syros in Greece.  About 15,000 seedlings were set out over 20 years and finally 5,000 pine trees survived and have grown to 20 feet tall in sheltered places.  John spread his father’s ashes in the bay and under the trees.  His family will spread John’s ashes there in the summer.

When his mother and stepfather died and three daughters went off to college, he and Karen moved in 2001 to Cambridge, Massachusetts.  There he enjoyed the privileges of being a Harvard graduate and the fun of being close to museums and music.  He took singing lessons and enjoyed learning Schubert lieder and Britten folk songs and swimming in the Harvard pools.  Even though his aphasia impeded his speaking he could still sing. But going up and downstairs in the Cambridge townhouse became difficult, so in July 2017 they moved to Rockland, Maine, to share a house with their daughter Bella and her husband, Martin.

Although his illness was worsening, he still enjoyed listening to music, seeing friends, and especially delighted in his grandchildren Freya and Alastair.

Donations in his memory can be sent to the Frontotemporal Dementia Unit and Laboratory of Neuroimaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, care of: 

Bradford Dickerson, M.D.
Associate Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School
Director, Frontotemporal Dementia Unit and Laboratory of Neuroimaging
Massachusetts General Hospital
149 13th St., Suite 2691
Charlestown MA 02129 USA

—Submitted by the family.

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