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Saying Goodbye to a Hero in our Field, Barnett Pearce

I am heartbroken to share the news with the NCDD community that Barnett Pearce has passed.  Many of you know that Barnett has been battling cancer for several years, and continuing his work diligently despite much physical and emotional pain.  My heart goes out to his wife Kim Pearce, another extraordinary leader and friend in our field.

You may know Barnett as founding faculty member of the Dialogue, Deliberation and Public Engagement graduate certificate program at Fielding, as a long-time NCDD member and conference-goer (here he is pictured at the 2008 NCDD conference), as a practitioner working through the nonprofit Public Dialogue Consortium and the for-profit Pearce Associates, as a communication theorist who developed a distinctive theory of communication (the “coordinated management of meaning”), or as, most recently, co-founder with his wife Kim Pearce of the CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution.

Here is the announcement of his death, posted on the CMM Institute site:

It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Barnett Pearce — friend, teacher, mentor, father, grandparent, husband, and son.

For a person who dedicated his life to making words meet their full potential, there are no words  that can adequately describe the loss that family, friends, colleagues, and citizens of the world have just experienced.

Barnett’s wide-sweeping professional accomplishments have been chronicled in books, articles, and interviews – but even more profoundly, his authentic personal force has been felt throughout the countless interactions with individuals and groups who have left their connections with him feeling renewed, inspired, and transformed.

For the most exceptional people, success in a lifetime is often measured by the question: did they change the world? Even this question is not enough to capture Barnett’s legacy as an educator, researcher, thought leader, and paradigm breaker; his legacy is more powerful than that. Barnett taught us all how to remake the world into something that reflects our higher selves and our truest aspirations. He would want nothing more from all of us than to continue to do this for others.

If you would like to share a personal reflection on the impact of Barnett’s life and work, simply enter a comment on this post where we can all benefit from the reflections and celebrate such an amazing lifetime.

At the request of Kim Pearce, in lieu of flowers, please consider making a contribution to the CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution – Barnett and Kim’s non-profit organization whose mission is to extend the work of CMM through research, practice, professional development, and meaningful change in communities around the world.

To make an online donation, go to the CMM Institute website, or please send a check payable to:

The CMM Institute for Personal and Social Evolution

60557 E. Arroyo Grande Drive
Oracle, AZ 85623

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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  1. Ken Homer says:

    Although I did not know him well, I did have the pleasure of meeting Barnett at several NCDD conferences and of course I often read his comments on the discussion boards as well as occasionally tuning into a blog post or two. We have lost a terrific leader and ground breaking pioneer, a man of conviction, integrity, heart and humor. Rest well my friend and thanks for all the wonderful work you opened up for so many to carry forward.

    With my condolences to Kim and family and with the utmost respect,

    Ken Homer

  2. Thanks Sandy for sharing this sad news. While I did not work with him as closely as others, I always admired the depth of Barnett’s vision, generosity and integrity.

  3. Oliver Witte says:

    I was devastated to learn on Dr. Pearce’s death. He gave me my first opportunity to teach full-time on the university level. The administration offered to pay me peanuts and I was willing to accept. But Dr. Pearce stepped in and negotiated on my behalf a fair salary. He has remained a mentor for the rest of his life. I will sorely miss him. He was a great man. He had a heart for his people. I agree entirely with the previous comments.
    /Oliver Witte

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