SCARBOROUGH — Jim Pearson was the kind of guy, friends said, who’d stop on the side of the road to help you change a flat tire whether he knew you or not.

“Anyone that knew him liked him,” said Roger Delaware, whose friendship with Pearson spanned 50 years. “He was the real genuine thing.”

That’s what makes Pearson’s death so surprising.

“If it happened to Jim, it could happen to anyone,” Delaware said.

Pearson, 82, was attacked outside his home on Beech Ridge Road shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday, police said. He died later that morning after being taken to Maine Medical Center. Police have described the assault as a random attack and have not identified any suspects or motive, although they did say Monday that they didn’t believe there was a threat to the public.

Those who knew Pearson, a longtime teacher at Gorham High School and the owner of Beech Ridge Farm, say he was the last person to invite confrontation.

Joanne Bond, executive secretary of the Maine Christmas Tree Association, has known Pearson and his wife, Nancy, for 20 years and called them “salt of the earth.”

Jim Pearson of Beech Ridge Farm in Scarborough pauses while driving his tractor on Nov. 30, 1999. Staff file photo

“We saw it on the news Sunday night and I immediately said, ‘Oh my god, that’s Jim and Nancy’s place,’” she said. “They were the nicest people you’d ever meet and he had a real dry sense of humor.”

The Pearsons were longtime residents of Scarborough and have been selling Christmas trees on their property for three decades.

“I have great memories of bringing my daughter to pick out a tree and him pulling us along in his tractor,” said Jean-Marie Caterina, a Scarborough town councilor. Like others, Caterina described  Pearson as the “nicest guy.”

Pearson, in an interview posted on YouTube by Sturbridge Yankee Workshop in 2011, talked about running the tree farm. He said he drove past the 300-year-old former dairy farm on Beech Ridge Road every day on his way to teach at Gorham High School. In 1969, he saw a “For Sale” sign and bought the property. In 1984, the Pearsons planted their first Christmas trees, which they began harvesting about 5 years later.

With the patience of a veteran teacher, Pearson described the process of growing and harvesting Christmas trees. He joked you only need “good intestinal fortitude” and a little red handsaw to cut down the perfect Christmas tree. He said some years he’d sell as many as 1,500 trees, sometimes to customers who hauled them home to Rhode Island and Chicago.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people, more than that, go away happy,” he said in a distinct Maine accent.

Beech Ridge Farm was closed Monday and no one answered the door at the home. Attempts to reach Pearson’s family, including his daughter, Mary Pearson, a sergeant with Scarborough Police, were unsuccessful.

Clement Meserve, who knew Pearson for decades and runs a tree farm in Dayton, Boiling Spring Tree Farm, said he talked to Mary Pearson late Sunday afternoon.

“They are all very upset, naturally,” he said. “I think they want to find whoever did this.”

Meserve said Jim Pearson was at an age where “anyone can drop.”

“But not that way,” he said. “It’s a terrible thing.”

Delaware said Pearson was still plenty healthy.

“He had a grip like a vice,” he said. “For someone to overpower him, well, I think they would have had to catch him unaware.”

In addition to his reputation as a genial every-man around town, Pearson was a highly regarded teacher.

Glenn Cummings, now president of the University of Southern Maine, first met Pearson at Gorham High School in the 1980s. Cummings was just beginning his teaching career and looked up to Pearson, who was nearing the end of his own teaching career.

“He was absolutely adored by his students and his colleagues. He had a joyous sense of humor, a sense of mischief even,” Cummings said. “He was the kind of teacher a lot of us young teachers looked up to because you could tell he was so respected and appreciated by the kids. We knew he was the person we should be like and he was a good mentor.”

Cummings said one of the most memorable things about Pearson was his kindness, both to his colleagues and his students.

“He put the students first. That was always his hallmark,” said Cummings, who would occasionally cross-country ski on Pearson’s property in the years after they taught together.

Cummings said a popular story about Pearson’s retirement from the high school demonstrated a lot about his personality. After Pearson had retired, other teachers were cleaning out his desk. Among the piles of stuff left behind, they found two uncashed paychecks.

“That tells me this man just loved what he was doing,” Cummings said.

“This is a loss to all of us. He reflects the best of Maine,” he continued. “He cared about all the right things. He was a man who brought lots of joy into people’s lives, including my own.”

Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this story

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