In Memoriam: A. Lawrence Peirson III


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death March 13, 2006 of A. Lawrence Peirson III at his home in Woods Hole after a long illness.  He was 73.

Abel Lawrence “Jake” Peirson III was born March 28, 1932 in Orange, NJ, grew up in Concord, MA, and attended the Holderness School in Plymouth, NH, graduating in 1950.  He pursued geology at Colby College, earning a B.A. degree in 1954, then headed west and received an M.S. degree in petroleum geology in 1956 from Stanford University.  Eager for practical experience, Jake worked as a regional geologist for Creole Petroleum of Venezuela between 1956 and 1965, returning with wife Anna Maria to New England to earn an M.B.A. degree from Boston University in 1967.  While in business school he worked briefly for Parker, Eldridge and Sholl, Management Consultants, in Waltham, MA, conducting market research and personnel searches.

His long affiliation with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution began in 1967 when he accepted a position as special assistant to Fred Mangelsdorf, assistant director for development and information. Jake was the key staff person for the various WHOI committees in 1967 and 1968 involved in the formation of the MIT/WHOI Joint Program. He soon moved to the Education Office, working first with Acting Dean Kenneth O. Emery and then Dean H. Burr Steinbach to establish a strong foundation for the Institution’s graduate education activities, especially the MIT/WHOI Joint Program. From the outset, Jake’s contributions were immense. He functioned as registrar, dean of students, executive secretary to various committees for the joint program, coordinated Education Office functions with the rest of the Institution, and acted as office manager and general fiscal manager of education programs. He was promoted to Assistant Dean and Registrar in 1976, and in 1989 he was promoted to Associate Dean. Through the years he worked with Deans Bob Morse (1973 -1979), Charley Hollister (1979 -1989), Craig Dorman (Acting Dean 1989-1990), and most recently with John Farrington from 1990 until Jake retired in 1996.
Charley Hollister noted the sentiments of many in the early 1980s that “the educational effort at WHOI has become nationally and internationally recognized. It has succeeded largely because of one person’s total commitment since its inception: Jake Peirson’s.  Jake has been the single person that cared most about what happens. Hardworking, reliable, loyal, consistent, warm and honest are words that describe Jake. He has been the corporate memory for 20 years, the man behind the scenes, the person everyone turns to for the right answer from medical benefits for students, summer rent assistance to tuition exchange with MIT. ...He cares for the high school aspirant, the college student and entering grads, and his humanness is respected amongst all educators in our field.”  John Farrington, Dean from 1990 to 2005, remembers being welcomed by Jake as a postdoc on July 1971. “Charley Hollister’s comments capture the essence of what Jake meant to WHOI’s education programs, students and postdocs.”

Jake’s door was always open, and he spent countless hours discussing courses or life in general with students. He was a friend and mentor, providing encouragement, advice and support. He and wife Anna Maria opened their home to many through the years, and Jake enjoyed keeping in touch through alumni/ae events at AGU or other science meetings, commencement ceremonies at WHOI or MIT, and less formal gatherings and personal contacts.

Through his years at WHOI he was involved in a diverse set of programs and activities in addition to the Joint Program, from the ocean sciences deans retreats and postdoctoral, summer student fellowship and geophysical fluid dynamics programs to local and regional K-12 activities, the Woods Hole Science and Technology Education Partnership, and the Falmouth Public Schools Science Fair. He scheduled and oversaw ONR-funded college faculty workshops, played a major role in the early days of the JASON Project when 20,000 students and others visited WHOI for live broadcasts each year, had responsibilities for the UMASS Lowell Employee Education Program, and served on the Employees Capital Campaign Committee in the 1990s. In 1995 Jake was presented with the Institution’s Vetlesen Award, given to an employee for “exceptional contributions not merely above and beyond superb performance of their jobs and service on committees, but for true selfless dedication of a major portion of themselves to the entire WHOI community over a long period of time.”

Outside of WHOI Jake was a strong supporter of Falmouth Academy.  He served as a trustee from 1982 to 1991, overseeing dynamic growth of the school and leading the board in a successful campaign to raise funds for construction of the school’s permanent campus near Beebe Woods.  He became chairman of the board in 1984, and in 1991 he retired as chair and was named chairman emeritus. Headmaster Bruce Buxton noted at the time that “Jake provided the kind of rare and steady leadership critical to the success of the school as it advanced through a stressful and uncertain period in its history.”  When Jake retired from the board of trustees in 2004, he was named to the Falmouth Academy Tower Club, which honors “those individuals whose vision and extraordinary service to Falmouth Academy have provided the direction, stability and driving force behind Falmouth Academy’s continued growth and excellence.” WHOI recognized his many contributions to K-12 education by naming the Institution’s annual college scholarship to the first place winner of the Falmouth Academy science fair, which Jake helped organize, the A. Lawrence Peirson III Award.  

Jake also served as a trustee of the Kelly Foundation, and was a member of the Falmouth Rotary Club for many years. In his spare time he loved to play golf, ski and tinker in his workshop. He was a long-time member of the Woods Hole Golf Club.

Jake retired from the Institution in 1996 but continued to contribute to education activities, most recently as Executive Director of the Joint Program Alumni/ae Association, quietly working from an office in Fenno when his health permitted.  Upon Jake’s retirement in 1996, the association established an endowed fund in his honor, the A.L. “Jake” Peirson III Student Opportunity Fund at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  

Survivors include his wife, Anna Maria (Carrano) Peirson of Woods Hole, MA; three sons, A. Lawrence Peirson IV of London, England, Eric J. Peirson of Carbondale, CO, and Stefan P. Peirson of Basalt, CO;  six  grandchildren; a sister, Helen Bunting Richardson of New Mexico; and two nephews.

Funeral arrangements were private. A celebration of his life will be held Saturday, March 25, at 1 p.m. on the 5th floor of Clark Laboratory on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s Quissett Campus. In lieu of flowers, donations in Jake Peirson’s memory may be made to the American Cancer Society (1115 West Chestnut St., Brockton, MA 02301), the National Parkinson Foundation, Inc. (1501 N.W. 9th Avenue, Miami, Florida 33136-1494), Hospice & Palliative Care of Cape Cod (270 Communication Way, Hyannis, MA 02601), and the A.L. “Jake” Peirson III Student Opportunity Fund at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (c/o Development Office, WHOI  MS #40, Woods Hole, MA 02543).


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