Richard G. Pearson, 54, who was known for the graceful obituaries he wrote for the Washington Post on personalities such as Andy Warhol and Cary Grant and on virtual unknowns, died Tuesday at a hospital in Arlington, Va. The cause was pancreatic cancer.
Pearson was a Chicago native who studied political science at American University in Washington, D.C., and considered a foreign service career before gravitating to journalism.
He joined the Post as a copy assistant in the photo department in 1971, and worked in various departments as a copy aide and supervisor before becoming a reporter in 1981.
Pearson was named obituary editor in 1988, succeeding the newspaper’s first obituary editor, J.Y. Smith. He oversaw the expansion of the paper’s obituary coverage, with the creation of an obituary desk manned by six writers.
Although often derided by other reporters as unchallenging work, obituary writing attracted Pearson because of his love of history and the variety it offered.
“On a day when everyone else is writing about a snowstorm, we’re writing about a city council member, the king of Burma, a junior high school geography teacher, a Nobel physicist, a jazz drummer, a baseball player ... " he said in a 1996 interview. “As I tell people sometimes, God is my assignment editor.”