Jim Berry Pearson, historian and educational leader, was born in Gilmer, Texas, on January 3, 1924. He was the son of John H. and Vera L. Pearson. He entered the University of Texas in 1941, but the outbreak of World War II interrupted his education, and he served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946. Pearson married June L. Young in Oklahoma in 1943, and they had two sons, Jim Berry Jr. and Terry.
Following World War II, Pearson resumed studies at the University of Texas and in 1947 moved to Denton where he completed B.A. and M.A. degrees in history from the school that is now the University of North Texas. He taught history at Midwestern University (now Midwestern State University) in Wichita Falls, Texas, for several years and in 1953 began graduate work at the University of Texas, where he earned a Ph.D. under direction of the famous Texas historian, Walter Prescott Webb, in 1955.
Pearson taught history at Arlington State College (now University of Texas at Arlington) from 1955 to 1958 and then returned to the University of Texas at Austin to lead a special program to improve the teaching of history in the state’s public schools. He became assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and assistant vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas. In 1969 he was the chief editor of a study, Education in the States: Historical Development and Outlook, a project of the Council of Chief State School Officers and published by the National Education Association of the United States.
In 1971 Pearson moved to the University of North Texas (UNT) to serve as associate vice president for academic affairs. At UNT, he held the positions of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1973 until 1981 and professor in the history department until his death in 1990. Pearson’s major contributions to historical scholarship included two monographs: The Maxwell Land Grant (1961) and The Red River-Twining Area: A New Mexico Mining Story (1986). He also co-authored a text, Texas: The Land and Its People, that appeared in several editions, and he published numerous articles in scholarly journals.
Pearson received many awards for his outstanding work as a teacher and administrator, including the Teaching Excellence Award from the University of Texas at Austin and the Distinguished Service Award from the Council of Chief State School Officers. In 1989 the University of North Texas showed is appreciation of his many contributions to that institution by making him the recipient of its President’s Special Recognition Award. At the time of his death in 1990, he was first vice president of the Texas State Historical Association and a member of its executive council. He was scheduled to serve as president of the association in 1991–92.
Pearson’s first wife died in 1962, and a decade later he married Mary Shields in Pennsylvania. Mary Pearson played an instrumental role in the Texas County Records Inventory Project. Jim Pearson died of a heart attack in Denton, Texas, on June 18, 1990. His memorial service was held at the First United Methodist Church of Denton where he was a longtime member.