John Pearson (1927-2011) was Professor of Helminthology at the University of Queensland. He was an international authority on trematode taxonomy and life cycles and wrote leading papers on the phylogeny of the Digenea.

John Cawardine Pearson was born in Toronto, Canada in 1927. While still at school, stirred by the gift of a microscope, John volunteered as a research assistant at the Royal Ontraio Museum and it was here that he first witnessed cercariae, larval stages of trematode parasites, emerging from snails. After graduating from the University of Toronto (BA Hons, 1950; MA 1951), John pursued a PhD at the Ontario Research Foundation under Professor Murray Fallis. John’s doctoral dissertation, a detailed description of two diplostome trematodes of foxes and wolves, was published in 1954.

In 1956, encouraged by Professor John Sprent, whom he had known in Toronto, John came to the University of Queensland as the first Postdoctoral Fellow in Helminthology. Having told his mother that he would return to Canada within two years, John was in fact to remain at the University for the next 36 years. After a time as Lecturer and then Reader in the Department of Parasitology, the University bestowed on John a Personal Chair in Helminthology, a post that he held with great distinction at his retirement in 1992.

John published over 50 scientific publications. His 1972 paper “A phylogeny of life-cycle patterns of the Digenea” was, in the words of his student Professor Malcom Jones, “ a highly influential study, displaying evidence of sound knowledge and deep thought.” Twenty years later, John was still publishing and still a passionate advocate of scholarly rigour. He leaves, in the words of his friend and colleague Mike Howell, “a legacy of studies on trematode biology that will inspire students for years to come.”

John will be remembered not only for his original research, but as a teacher and mentor. His former students speak of his generosity and gentlemanly manner. At UQ, he supervised the doctoral studies of a number of prominent parasitologists, including Malcolm Jones and Tom Cribb. A man of broad intellectual interests – he was widely read and fluent in several languages – he demanded from his students excellence both in observation and in their writing. Malcolm Jones writes of John:

“His own works were masterful works of literature and he felt that good science had to be communicated well. He told me that the noted author Somerset Maughan could take 3 months of full-time writing to complete a short story. If it took Maughan that long, then we, who are not naturally gifted writers, should also spend equal or greater times in presenting a work of science that would stand through the ages. His work will do this.”


This piece on John Pearson first appeared in the ASP Newsletter Vol.23 No.1, March 2012.