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  • Writer's pictureEmily Lavin

John Pearson: Citizen of the Year served on Belvedere Planning Commission and City Council


The late John Pearson was Belvedere’s Citizen of the Year in 2010. (Elliot Karlan photo / For The Ark)

Longtime Belvedere resident John Pearson, a former Citizen of the Year whose commitment to civic life included serving some three decades on the Planning Commission, died June 3 from complications following surgery. He was 81.


Mr. Pearson followed his time on the commission, which ran from 1981 to 2001, with a 2½-year interim stint on the City Council from late 2001 to early 2004. He was also on the board of the Belvedere Community Foundation from 2012 to 2021; for the past two years, he was an advisory trustee of the foundation and served on its finance committee.


His volunteer work with the city was rooted in one of the core tenets of his personality: He was a people person, said his wife, Kathy.


“He just really loved being with other people,” she said. “I think that was his hobby, his main hobby was just talking to other people.”


Mr. Pearson was born Aug. 9, 1941, in Minneapolis, the youngest of seven children of Carrie and John Pearson. The family moved to Sacramento when he was young, and he grew up there. He graduated from Sacramento State University, where he studied business, and later studied at the Graduate School of Credit and Financial Management at Dartmouth College’s Amos Tuck School of Business.


While living in San Francisco, he built his career as an investment banker, first at Price Waterhouse & Co. and later at Bank of California, where he eventually became senior vice president. In the 1980s, he co-founded the boutique search firm Pearson, Caldwell and Farnsworth, which was acquired by Korn Ferry in 1999. Mr. Pearson served as managing director of Korn Ferry International before retiring.


A resident of Belvedere for about five decades, he originally settled in the city with his first wife, LeeAnn Dependener. The couple had three children — John, Kirsten and Landon — before divorcing. At age 40, he married Kathy, and the two blended their families, which included Kathy’s children, Jay and Lindsay Dowd.


He was prompted to join the Planning Commission after planning his own home remodel, which drew objections from a neighbor, according to a 2011 Ark article.


“I was impressed with the commission,” Mr. Pearson said at the time. “It was a nice little thing back then; five neighbors coming in to talk about how high the fence should be.”


He was appointed in 1981 and served through 1983, then rejoined the board in 1986 after moving back to Belvedere following a two-year stint in Southern California while working for Bank of California.


Kathy Pearson noted her late husband “was really interested in houses and their aesthetics and the way they fit into Belvedere.”


As a commissioner, Mr. Pearson was “level-headed, fair, smart and community minded,” said Bill Smith, a former Belvedere mayor and longtime friend. He noted that Mr. Pearson’s motivation for civic service was his vested interest in the community and those who lived in it.


“He didn’t do it for ego,” Smith said. “I think he felt he really had a positive effect on the community.”


Steger Johnson, another former mayor and longtime friend, served on the commission with Mr. Pearson for several years. He noted Mr. Pearson was a “sound thinker” who always did his homework.


“He visited every home, he would talk to homeowners, hear their point of view, and he was also very objective,” Johnson said.


When Jim Helfrich resigned from the City Council in 2001 to temporarily move his family to Germany, it was Johnson who encouraged Mr. Pearson to apply for the seat. Johnson said Mr. Pearson’s deep community ties and sound planning background made him “the perfect fit” for the council. He was appointed to the seat over two other candidates, though he chose not run for re-election for a full four-year term in March 2004.


“He was an outstanding City Council member,” Johnson said.


Mr. Pearson also served on the city’s finance committee for several years in the mid-2000s.


His community efforts were recognized in 2010, when Belvedere honored him with its Citizen of the Year award. In an Ark article, Mr. Pearson said he was “totally shocked” to receive the award.


“He was shy about it,” Kathy Pearson said, noting her late husband was humbled by the award. “He was modest in that way.”


That shyness about being named Citizen of the Year, however, didn’t translate to Mr. Pearson’s everyday persona, Johnson said.


“John was one of those people who the minute you met him, you liked him,” he said. “He just had a wonderful sense of humor, and I don’t think I ever came away from an encounter with John where I didn’t laugh.”


Mr. Pearson’s passion for people and community was rivaled only by his passion for food, those who knew him said.


“He loved to eat out and he loved to talk about food and all that stuff,” Kathy Pearson said.


For several years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and then again in the 2000s, Mr. Pearson wrote restaurant reviews for The Ark, reviewing local restaurants as well as some of his favorites in New York City, which he visited frequently.


Among his favorite New York restaurants was Babbo, then owned by chef Mario Batali. While on a visit to the city, he favorably reviewed another of Batali’s restaurants, the now-closed Po. According to an article in The Ark, local readers would make reservations at Po when visiting the city and tell Batali about Mr. Pearson’s article. Batali and Mr. Pearson became friends, Kathy Pearson said, and in late 2002, Batali invited Mr. Pearson to appear on four of his cooking shows, according to The Ark article.


In a 1992 Ark letter to the editor, residents Rod and Kay McKenzie thanked Pearson for his recent restaurant news column, “Eating Your Way Through New York City.”


The couple had recently spent two nights in New York with friends, they said.


“We took John’s column with us and were delighted with Brio and Sette Mezzo,” they wrote. “Both lived up to his evaluations in every way.”


Mr. Pearson’s column, Smith said, was “something you really looked forward to in The Ark.”


“He was really good at it, and he loved it,” Smith said.


Johnson called Mr. Pearson’s death “a real, real loss to the city” but noted his lasting impact on the community.


“I think he knew everybody in Belvedere, and everybody loved him,” he said.


In addition to his wife, Kathy, Mr. Pearson is survived by his daughter Kirsten, son Landon, stepdaughter Lindsey Dowd and stepson Jay Dowd. His son John, known as Jay, and his six siblings predeceased him.

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