ORANGEBURG OUT OF THE PAST

John F. Pearson, 1890-1968

John F. Pearson was the legendary force behind the city of Orangeburg’s public utility system. He was also the father of rural electrification as his testimony in Washington led to the formation of the Rural Electrification Administration for America. John Franklin Pearson was born in 1890 to Porter F. Pearson and Lorena Ann Bonnette Pearson in the Pinehill community. In 1909 he was graduated from Orangeburg High School and in 1913 from Clemson College with a degree in mechanical and electrical engineering. Mr. Pearson’s working career began immediately after college in 1913 with the city of Orangeburg’s Water and Light Department (now DPU). From 1915-1919 he served as the superintendent of the Blackville Light Co. He returned to Orangeburg in 1919 as the superintendent of the Water and Light Department, a position he held for the next thirty seven years. When he started, the department had twelve employees and one mule and wagon. When he retired in 1956 the department had progressed to sixty employees and eighteen vehicles. In his early days the legendary mule “Liza” amazed everyone. If Mr. Pearson was working in one area of town and needed the mule and wagon, he would get on his bicycle and ride there, put his bike in the wagon, and go back to the needed site. When he finished he would get on his bike and ride off, and “Liza” would then return on his own to the previous work site. In the 1920s Orangeburg had much pressure placed on it by big power companies who wanted to buy our city system. Mr. Pearson was vehemently opposed to this, even though he was promised lucrative positions with these companies. Thus our Department of Utilities now ranks as one of the best models of local utilities in the state. When Mr. Pearson arrived in 1919 the Water and Light Department was losing $1000 a month. At the end of his first year it made $21,000. By the time he retired from DPU in 1956 over $4,000,000 total had been turned over to the city which resulted in lower taxes for the citizens in Orangeburg. Mr. Pearson was a past president of the Rotary Club. In 1955 he received the Fuller Award for the entire United States from the American Waterworks Association. He was president of the Home Building and Loan Association for almost twenty five years. Mr. Pearson was very active at St. Paul’s Methodist Church. In his retirement he served them as their supervisor of church properties. He married the former Virginia Claire Davis, and they had two daughters, Doris P. Patrick, and Elma P. Owens. After his wife’s death he married Lorena Lowe. He died in 1968.

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