At the Top of the List

The fountain of The Huntington’s North Vista. Photograph by Lisa Blackburn.

The fountain of The Huntington’s North Vista. Photograph by Lisa Blackburn.

The Huntington lost a good friend and supporter recently when Carol Pearson passed away in her sleep on March 7, 2013. Carol first came to The Huntington in 1958 to work for the publications department. More than 50 years later, she was still seen frequently on campus, most recently volunteering in the botanical division as well as assisting with the proofreading of Shelley M. Bennett’s forthcoming book on the history of the Huntingtons in the Gilded Age.

As a freelancer, Carol typed (yes, typed) manuscripts and indexed books for visiting scholars. She was the research assistant for the Huntington classic, A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West: The Reminiscences of Mary Hallock Foote, edited by Rodman W. Paul. In his introduction, Paul thanked her for her “stellar performance” and for her “resourcefulness and her enthusiasm for the project [which] kept her searching long after a lesser person would have quit.” It was surely one of her favorite projects.

Once when I was writing an essay on indexing, she shared with me one of her favorite entries: “blood, as beverage” in John Reid’s Policing the Elephant (sometimes indexers can have a quirky sense of humor). Reid’s corresponding passage detailed a thirsty party of pioneers on the overland trail that slaughtered one of their oxen and drank the blood. They reported that they became more thirsty.

Carol Pearson sitting by the Huntington Art Gallery. Photograph by Melissa Hoagland.

Carol Pearson sitting by the Huntington Art Gallery. Photograph by Melissa Hoagland.

She took on projects in many parts of the institution. For the rare books department she cataloged thousands of titles for the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC), a database of almost 500,000 items printed in the British Isles and North America between 1473 and 1800. Roy Ritchie, former director of research, acknowledged the importance of this database to scholars at Carol’s memorial service. When the Southern California office of the Archives of American Art was at The Huntington, she transcribed midcentury artist Millard Sheets’ oral history. Most recently, Carol and I worked together to organize 13 file cabinets of the papers of Bargyla Rateaver, a writer, educator, and world authority on the organic method of growing plants. Dr. Rateaver had planned to write an encyclopedia on the subject. After we organized the files, Carol entered the file numbers and subjects into a database now accessible to researchers.

I first met Carol at The Huntington’s bridge table 30 years ago. Lunchtime bridge with staff and scholars is a Huntington tradition dating back to the 1930s. While the number of players has dwindled, there are still usually four, enough for a game. As the senior player, Carol continued to teach us, ever so patiently, the finer points of the game.

Carol cared deeply about The Huntington. As Dr. Ritchie pointed out at her service, we can think of Carol whenever we see the garden fountains because she established a fund to support their maintenance.

Peggy Park Bernal is former director of the Huntington Library Press.

3 thoughts on “At the Top of the List

  1. As one who only briefly met and interacted with Carol Pearson, when her now deceased proud husband Professor J. Kent Clark proudly introduced her to me, his assistant at the Caltech Humanities Department. Professor Clark was a fine scholar and a true gentleman. He proudly mentioned that he and his distinguished wife had together volunteered more hours than anyone else at the time.
    Mrs. Pearson graciously invited me to Professor Clark’s memorial at the Athenaeum and wrote me a kind note after the service. Kent Clark often spoke of the many volunteer hours they had spent at their beloved Huntington. Since then I have noticed that she often appears as the “Poster Girl” for the Villa Gardens retirement community, truly a remarkable woman. I only regret that I did not know Carol Pearson when I in 1957, worked for Constance Lodge in the Acquisitions department, where I sense that we may have worked on the same large en bloc collection of early English “pamphlets”, the most interesting and fun time at work I ever had.
    Thank you! I only felt the need to register my admiration of Carol Pearson at this time, since I do not know anyone from her family, I thank you for this opportunity.

  2. Carol will indeed be missed. She provided a shining example of grace, good humor, optimism, and tenacity in all things she undertook. I feel privileged to have known her.

  3. I worked with Carol when I was principal rare book cataloger at the Huntington several years ago now. Of course, we connected mainly over her ESTC work. She was incredibly productive and thorough in that effort, as she was in all her endeavors. We stayed in touch after I left for DC. She always had plenty irons in the fire and was an absolute inspiration. I was shocked and saddened to hear of her passing, but what a great life. We should all spend the kind of time she did on the things that matter most to us, intrigue us, and constantly enrich our knowledge.

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