The University’s newest Distinguished Alumnus wanted to become a police officer when he was a boy. J. Michael Pearson achieved his dream and much more. In the Secret Service, he protected the Queen of England, Pope John Paul, and President George H. W. Bush and his work took him to 26 foreign countries. Today, there are greater demands for his skills–he oversees the development of new technologies for Homeland Security.
A Chattanooga Police Officer
When Pearson became one of the first Chattanooga policemen to complete his undergraduate degree in criminal justice at UTC, his mentor Dr. Ken Venters, encouraged him to pursue the newly created Master of Science Degree in criminal justice, with a concentration in education
Having degrees from UTC provided a “huge difference in my career. I could not have applied for the Secret Service without a four-year degree,” Pearson said.
In the Line of Fire
Pearson’s field office work on the investigative side included protection and intelligence. A 30-day rotation for travel meant Pearson could be picked up to protect the president, foreign dignitaries, heads of state, or candidates.
“When Pope John Paul visited New York, it was like a presidential visit. He said Mass at Giants Stadium, it drew a huge crowd. During an event like that, even a place like New York comes to a standstill. When Queen Elizabeth came, she had a private visit to Lexington, Kentucky. Her visit was a lot easier for security,” Pearson said.
Pearson protected Al Gore and his family and family home in Carthage, Tennessee.
In a letter of support for Pearson’s nomination as UTC Distinguished Alumnus, the former vice president described Pearson as “an honorable man who distinguished himself in every assignment he undertook on my behalf. He is smart, down to earth, personable, and a true law enforcement professional in every regard. He was more than just an agent on my protective detail; Mike became a great friend and I immensely enjoyed my time with him.”
National defense with technology
Pearson served as Supervisory Special Agent to the Chicago Field Office, where he established the Chicago Electronic Crimes Task Force. Criminal cyber activity came under the scrutiny of this partnership of law enforcement agencies, academic and financial institutions, and prosecutors.
When he retired, Pearson was Resident Agent in Charge of the U.S. Secret Service Office in Jackson, Mississippi, responsible for liaison with all levels of law enforcement in the state of Mississippi.
Today, Pearson is Director of Tennessee Operations in Chattanooga for Radiance Technologies, a defense contractor that works closely with Homeland Security. His Chattanooga office works directly with the SimCenter: National Center for Computational Engineering to procure Congressional funding, grants, small business initiatives and other means to develop new technologies, primarily for the United States Department of Defense as well as for commercial use.
When Pearson and his wife, Liz, a high school English teacher, moved back to Tennessee, they bought a small farm in Marion County, Tennessee. Pearson says they are growing “mostly hay right now.”
Former Chattanooga Fire and Police Commissioner and Chattanooga Mayor Gene Roberts is glad to have Pearson working again in Chattanooga, calling him “a prize” and “always a fine ambassador for Chattanooga and UTC, making friends and gaining the confidence and appreciation of the nation’s leaders for his professionalism.”