CHELSEA – He played the game of life liked he played high school football and basketball at Brunswick — with a lot of heart.

John W. Pearl, a longtime resident of Gardiner who moved to Chelsea a few years ago, died Sunday at an Augusta nursing home after living with cancer for more than 20 years.

He was 69.

When Mr. Pearl’s family moved to Brunswick, he started playing basketball and football for Brunswick High School where his father, Warren Pearl, was the football and basketball coach and athletic director.

Mr. Pearl and his brothers, Thomas and Ronald, played football for their father, who spent more than 30 years at Brunswick High School.

“John was not a player of great stature, but he played with a lot of heart,” his brother, Thomas Pearl of Scarborough, said. “He did everything in his life with a lot of meaning and heart.”

Mr. Pearl was born in Augusta, the eldest son of Warren and Lois Burnheimer Pearl.

He graduated from Brunswick High School in 1959.

After graduation he attended Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, Ricker College in Houlton, and Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, but never earned his college degree.

“He couldn’t find anything he really liked (in college),” his brother said.

He eventually became a reservist in the United States Coast Guard, but left the Coast Guard to start his own business.

Mr. Pearl established the “Furniture Factory” on Water Street in Gardiner where he specialized in refurbishing antiques, reupholstering, and caning chairs. He did that for more than 30 years.

He essentially taught himself the craft of woodworking, his brother said.

“Ever since he was a kid, he enjoyed working with his hands,” Pearl said.

But Mr. Pearl wasn’t content to just run a business.

He opened up his shop to children and adults with special needs, teaching them how to cane chairs.

He led pre-vocational training programs for special needs students and adults throughout the Kennebec Valley Council for Disabled Citizens.

“It was something he enjoyed. He didn’t have to do it, but my brother had a spot in his mind and his heart that reached out to everyone, regardless of whether they were rich or poor. He’d say, they’re all people and we all walk this earth together,” his brother said.

He also taught adult education and special needs classes to residents of Augusta’s independent living centers.

He never married.

“He was married to his work,” Pearl said.

“I’m quite proud of John. He did it on his own. He never became a millionaire, but he passed away knowing that there were a lot of people out there who respect him for what he did,” his brother said.

Mr. Pearl had lived with cancer for more than 20 years, finally entering a nursing home in February.

“I admire him for how well he handled that disease for such a long period of time,” his brother said. “He used to say life isn’t going to be fun sometimes. You’ve got to make it fun.”


Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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