Boyer pioneer Alan Pearson farewelled

OBITUARY – Alan John Pearson OAM
July 21, 1922 – July 2, 2013

ALAN Pearson was one of small band of scientists who unlocked the secret of successfully making paper from Tasmanian hardwoods. He came to New Norfolk in 1944 to work as a research chemist and stayed for the rest of his life. Australian Newsprint Mills (now Norske Skog Boyer) had been turning out paper by the tonne since 1941, but it did not match international standards. Between 1952 and 1957 the ANM scientists developed the cold soda process which improved both the strength and brightness of the paper produced. When started in July 1957, Boyer’s “cold caustic soak” was the first successful use of this process in the world and it continued to be used until 2009.

The eldest son of Jack and Ethel Pearson, Alan was born at Temora, New South Wales, on July 21, 1922, but grew up and attended school in Armidale. An excellent student, he won a scholarship which paid for his high school education. He was also an all round sportsman – a middle distance runner, cricketer, tennis player, bushwalker and a good shot with a rifle. As a teenager during the Great Depression, Alan helped to supplement the family larder with rabbits that he had shot, selling the pelts for pocket money.

He wanted to become a doctor, but Australia needed scientists and he studied chemistry at the University of Sydney’s Armidale campus. It was there that he met Isabella Brewer – better known as Belle. After graduating he went, under wartime manpower regulations, to work at Boyer as a research chemist on the production of newsprint from eucalypt pulp. In 1945 he became very ill with hydatids and had to return to Sydney for treatment.

Belle visited Alan in hospital and their friendship was rekindled. After he recovered, Alan encouraged her to visit New Norfolk – just for a look. They married on December 21, 1946, and settled in New Norfolk for a two-year stay. Daughters Ann and Judy were born in 1948 and 1950 respectively. As it was, Alan and Belle made their life in New Norfolk, living initially in Pioneer Ave and then Trevor Tce, before being offered a company house in Derwent Tce in 1956. Alan’s promotion to chief chemist in 1965 included a staff house off Sixth Ave.

Alan had a distinguished career of 43 years with ANM, despite many offers of employment both in Australia and overseas. He travelled extensively, visiting mills around the globe, attending conventions and study tours and presenting many papers. After retiring in 1987 he continued lecturing and consulting in New Zealand, South Africa and Canada until 1996. He was recognised worldwide for his work, receiving an international Pulp and Paper Manufacturer’s Award from the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI) in the United States in 1975 and the Australian Pulp and Paper Industries Technical Association (APPITA) L.R. Benjamin Award in 1976. He subsequently was granted life membership by APPITA. He was made a Fellow of the Australian Chemical Institute in 1970, a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences in 1978 and a TAPPI Fellow in 1982. In 1978 he became a founder member of ERGS, the Eminent Refiner Groundwood Scientists group, which was a select group of only 20 scientsts around the world, later growing to 33.

In 1989, Alan received the Advance Australia Award for his contribution to science. He was honoured with the Centenary Medal in 2001 the the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2003 for his services to science and to the community. Alan was actively involved in serving the community until as recently as 2011. He was a founding member of the Small Bore Rifle Club, Tennis Club and Aquatic Club and was president of the ANM Sports and Social Club for 32 years.

He served as deputy warden on the New Norfolk Council for two terms in the early 1980s; was chairman of the Royal Derwent Hospital Board from 1983-99 and convener of the Southern Midlands Health Forum. He was a member of the board of Corumbene Nursing Home from 1999-2011 and was chairman for about 10 of those years. Pearson St in New Norfolk is named in his honour.

Alan was secretary and treasurer of both the Methodist and Anglican churches in New Norfolk and it was fitting that the former rector of St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Canon David Lewis, returned to conduct Alan’s funeral service last week. Sharing a love of music, Alan and Belle were foundation members of the Derwent Valley Concert Band and travelled overseas on most of the band’s tours and attending local concerts. At home, Alan always had a garden full of fruit and vegetables, and this gave him enormous satisfaction.

Alan is survived by his wife Belle; daughters Ann and Judy; grandchildren Matthew, Judith, Andrew, Alex, Sarah and Elisabeth; and great-grandchildren Eloise, Olive, Maria, Max and Gabriel.

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