At Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Md., he edited the school yearbook and, as a social studies project, produced “The Pear Press,” a Times look-alike packed with coverage of historical events. Audaciously, he invited James Reston, the venerable Times columnist and Washington bureau chief, to lunch. Mr. Reston accepted.
After scoring perfect 800s on his math and verbal SATs, Mr. Pear enrolled at Harvard, where he joined the staff of The Advocate, the literary magazine. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, who lived on the same floor freshman year, said Mr. Pear was so studious and polite that he was nicknamed “the deacon.” He graduated magna cum laude in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in English history and literature.
Mr. Pear went on to earn a master of philosophy degree from Balliol College, Oxford, and a master’s from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
He spent five years at The Washington Star, which closed in 1981, before joining The Times. “Few American journalists,” said Ben Wakana, a former press secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, “had more of an impact on the health care conversation than Robert.”
At The Times, the bureau’s newsroom was all but home to Mr. Pear.
“Not only did I make Robert go home several nights; I paid for a weeklong stay in Nassau in the Bahamas and carried him to the airport and put him on the plane,” Bill Kovach, a former Washington bureau chief, recalled. “He may have stayed there a day or two, but the next thing I knew he had slipped back into the office.”
That would explain how his byline appeared on more than 6,700 Times articles. Elisabeth Bumiller, the current Washington bureau chief, recalled that “the phrase ‘We have HEALTH by Pear’ was uttered hundreds of times in front-page meetings, to the relief of a generation of executive editors,” referring to the shorthand tag with which his proposed articles were named or, in newspaper parlance, slugged.
“In his memory we are retiring the slug HEALTH,” she said, “because it can only be by Pear.”