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Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson dies

The Story

After a short illness, Pearson passes away on Dec. 28, 1972, at his Ottawa home. His body then lies in state inside the Parliament Buildings where hundreds of dignitaries and the public brave frigid weather to pay their respects. This clip from CBC Television features anchor Lloyd Robertson reflecting on Pearson's legacy as his casket is removed from Parliament. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News Special
Broadcast Date: Dec. 31, 1972
Host: Lloyd Robertson
Duration: 10:38

Did You know?

• Lester B. Pearson died after a short battle with cancer. He was 75 years old.
• This clip features footage of the final hour of the lying in state service on Dec. 30 and ends with the beginning of the funeral procession on the following day.
• Pearson's Nobel Peace Prize can be seen on the far right among the various medals and honours he received during his life.
• Officials who came to pay their respects on New Year's Eve service included Prime Minister Trudeau and his wife Maggie, Paul Martin Sr., Mitchell Sharp, Jean Lesage, Robert Stanfield, Paul Hellyer and Governor General Roland Michener, who knew Pearson from his Oxford University days.
• Many of the same dignitaries served as the 30 honorary pallbearers, some of whom walked approximately five kilometres through freezing rain to the church where Pearson's funeral was held.
• Pearson fell into a coma on Dec. 27, 1972. Many sources list this as his death date, but according to Pearson's official biography he actually died the following day, Dec. 28.
• More than 1,200 people crowded into Christ Church Cathedral for the funeral service.
• U.S. President Richard Nixon sent his condolences, saying Pearson was "one of the 20th century's most untiring and effective workers in the cause of world peace."
• U.S. newspaper columnist James Reston wrote that Pearson "was a wise and joyful man who told us the truth about America and made us swallow it."
• Pearson was buried in an modest spot next to two of his political colleagues, in MacLaren Cemetery in Wakefield, Que.
• His son, Geoffrey Pearson, followed in his father's diplomatic footsteps. He became ambassador to Russia in the 1980s and served on various commissions for the United Nations.
• Patricia, Lester Pearson's daughter, would have five children, including the writer and columnist Patricia Pearson.
• Pearson's legacy can be felt today in the dozens of public buildings and awards that have taken his name.
• Some of these include: Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Lester B. Pearson Building in Ottawa (the headquarters for the federal Department of External Affairs) and scores of schools and school boards in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
• In an homage to his sporting abilities, the NHL dubbed its annual Most Outstanding Player award the Lester B. Pearson Award.
• Major League Baseball's inter-league trophy for games played between the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays was called the Pearson Cup.
• Despite this, Pearson's political legacy is somewhat less certain. A poll conducted when he retired in 1972 showed that more than two-thirds of Canadians could not name even one of his government's accomplishments.
• Writing in 1997 about the 100th anniversary of Pearson's birth, Richard Gwyn was more respectful. He gave Pearson credit for shaping much of what we think of as Canadian, from the Maple Leaf flag to bilingualism and international peacekeeping. "We are all Pearson's children," he wrote.


Lester B. Pearson: From Peacemaker to Prime Minister more