Dated: Saturday, March 30, 1996. (Derived from obituary published in the Fort Worth Star Telegram on Monday, April 1, and Daily Telegraph in London, England dated April 9, 1996.)
Eastland - Don Pierson, 70, a well-known business innovator, communications pioneer and civic leader, died Saturday after a long illness. Graveside service: 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Eastland Memorial Cemetery. Memorial service 2 p.m. Tuesday at the chapel of Bakker Funeral Home in Eastland. Officiant: The Rev. Henry A. Grubbs.
An exceptionally enthusiastic and friendly man, Mr. Pierson enjoyed a career that was unusual and, on occasion, highly publicized. After graduating from Abilene High School in 1943, he attended the University of Texas at Austin and served as a gunnery instructor in the Army Air Corps prior to the end of World War II. After the war, he continued his education at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene while working as a car salesman.
In 1948 he married the former Annette Grubbs and, at the age of 21, acquired his first car dealership, a Dodge-Plymouth agency in Comanche. After opening his second dealership in 1953, Don Pierson Olds-Cadillac in Eastland, he went on to establish a number of other automobile dealerships in Texas including such makes as Volkswagen, Hillman, Renault, Triumph, Jaguar, Porsche, and BMW. An untiring booster of his adopted hometown of Eastland, in 1957, Mr. Pierson reopened the long-closed Eastland airport, flamboyantly renaming the small grass-strip field "Eastland International Airport." Later, in the 1970s, he became the first person to land a jet aircraft in Eastland.
He attracted world headlines when, as mayor of Eastland in 1961, he convinced his fellow council members to pass a purported ordinance banning all smoking in Eastland with a mandatory three-year jail penalty for violators. Although intended as a humorous response to the Surgeon General's Commission on Smoking, whose recently-issued report on the dangers of smoking had been accompanied by an official photo of the Commission showing ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts, the Eastland anti-smoking ordinance proved prophetic-even though, at the time it generated a deluge of hate mail from the outraged citizens of Winston-Salem, N.C. Soon thereafter, Eastland again found itself in the headlines when, as president of the local Rotary Club. Mr. Pierson managed to convince the Deputy Soviet Ambassador to the United States, Vladimir Alkimov, to appear as the featured speaker of the club's weekly meeting - at the height of the Cold War.
In business, Mr. Pierson was a visionary and an innovator. In 1963, he established U.S. Telephonics, the world's first computer telemarketing company. Together, with a number of Abilene business leaders, he founded the Abilene National Bank (now Bank One - Abilene) in 1964 and served as the bank's first board chairman.
In 1967, Mr. Pierson was contacted by the Haitian Ambassador to the United States and asked to assist Haiti in its efforts to encourage business investment in that poverty-stricken land. After years of research and negotiation, M. Pierson's idea of a privately financed, privately managed free enterprise zone became a reality in 1971 when Haitian dictator Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and the Haitian government entered into a 99-year contract with Mr. Pierson's company, Dupont Caribbean Inc., to estabish Freeport Tortuga on the old buccaneer stronghold, Tortuga Island, located some 10 miles off the north coast of Haiti. Within 18 months, Mr. Pierson succeeded in building the island's first airport, a loading dock for seagoing vessels, a rudimentary water and sewer system, an electricity generating facility, and six miles of paved road. Of equal importance. the project created jobs for some 400 previously unemployed Haitians and resulted in the establishment of a small school to teach various job skills. Tragically, the project came to abrupt end in 1974 when, after it was announced that Gulf Oil Corp. was contemplating investing more than $300 million to build a resort on the island, the government of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier summarily expropriated the project, resulting in its collapse.
Mr. Pierson's other business ventures included a department store, a bowling facility, cable television, restaurants, oil investments, home banking, a slot car raceway, and farming and ranching operations. He served as Honorary Consul of the Republic of Haiti to Texas from 1969 through 1974, and re-entered the field of broadcasting in 1981 when he founded Radio Station KVMX-FM in Eastland. Mr. Pierson was a longtime member of the First Presbyterian Church of Eastland. He was preceded in death by his parents , Ryce and Hazel Pierson, and brother Ryce Pierson Jr.
Survivors: Wife, Annette Pierson; son Grey Pierson of Arlington; daughter, Marilyn Van Zandt of Arlington; sisters, Betty Oliver of Abilene and Doris Broadwell of Tampa; and two grandchildren, Lauren Van Zandt and Trevor Van Zandt, both of Arlington.
In 1964 his interests took him to England where, despite the tidal wave of music innovation fueled by such groups as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and others, government ownership of all broadcasting media effectively denied these entertainers access to the airwaves and British teen-agers were missing out on the rock and roll revolution spawned on their own shores. Sitting at home in the small west Texas township of Eastland, near Fort Worth, Pierson read press reports about the launching of the original pirate radio ships, Caroline and Atlanta. Sensing a business opportunity, he immediately bundled his wife and children on to flight to London. From a room in the Hilton Hotel he started to make plans to introduce British listeners to radio in the American style.
While Pierson chartered an aeroplane to circle the pirate radio ships off Harwich, his young son Grey was given a transistor radio and notebook to monitor both the new illegal "pop" stations and the BBC. Deeply unimpressed by the standards of broadcasting which this survey revealed, Pierson returned to Texas and enlisted fellow car dealers as investors in a new offshore radio station. Pierson bought a former US Navy minesweeper and anchored it off the south-east coast of England in international waters. In 1964 Wonderful Radio London made its broadcast. For the first time, millions in Britain heard the American format of top 40 radio, complete with jingles, commercials, news and weather on the hour, and even religious broadcasts. The station's output was based on the lively style of Radio KLIF, Dallas.
The station soon became the most successful radio station in history, attracting over 18 million daily listeners at its peak. Two additional ship-based stations, Radio England and Britain Radio, soon followed. The era of the so-called pirate stations came to an end in August 1967 when Parliament passed the anti-advertising Marine (Offences) Broadcasting Act at the behest of the BBC. However, due to the popularity of offshore commercial radio, Parliament was subsequently compelled the British government to permanently open England's airwaves to independent broadcasters.