Internationally known UFO researcher, George D’Espard Fawcett III, of Lincolnton, passed away Sunday after nearly a decade of battling Alzheimer’s disease, but his unprecedented legacy and lifetime of accomplishments remain fresh in the minds of his friends, family and the international UFO community.
“It’s a great loss,” Museum Director Mark Briscoe, of the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, N.M., told the Times-News on Wednesday.
Fawcett, whom his daughter Laurie Fawcett said served on the museum’s Council of Advisors, is a household name to those who run the unique center. Briscoe, who formerly headed the museum’s library and research center and has read many of Fawcett’s works over the years, considered the longtime Lincoln County resident a “great investigator” and “good scientist.”
“He was very accomplished at what he did — very thorough,” he said.
Briscoe also noted that each year more than 170,000 people from across the world flock to the museum and encounter Fawcett’s artifacts and literature.
“We have a whole section set up with his stuff,” he said.
While some may have considered the Mt. Airy native’s most passionate hobby a waste of time, Fawcett told the Times-News during a 2008 interview that many of the doubters over the years changed their minds about him and his work.
“We’ve (he and wife Shirley) had a balanced life between the real world and what people thought at one time was a bunch of bologna,” he said. “Now things have turned around, so everyone’s joined the party with me.”
His daughter Laurie Fawcett agreed.
“He went from being ridiculed to being a celebrity because suddenly more people were interested in it,” she said.
Fawcett started studying UFOs and the theories surrounding the stigma of such “alien spacecrafts” at age 10 after he received a telescope for Christmas.
In fact, he told the Times-News his interest in the skies and universe stemmed from the Bible and that further study on the topic only revealed a “wider revelation of God’s creation.”
It wasn’t until the mid-1940s that he took his passion to the next level after reading a New Orleans newspaper article on “ghost rockets” or “foo fighters” that World War II pilots reportedly witnessed on multiple occasions. The mysterious aircraft sightings were never explained or identified after the war, thus labeling them as UFOs.
Fawcett said through his study, he learned there were more than 5,000 pilot reports during the war.
“He kept noticing things would come up in papers about a silver ball,” his wife Shirley said. “The United States thought it was a weapon from the enemy and vice versa, and that attracted him and then he started collecting things on UFOs.”
Over the years, the local researcher investigated more than 7,000 UFO cases but only claimed to have encountered one himself in 1951. Fawcett previously told the Times-News he spotted the low-flying object one day at his college campus and that the humming UFO appeared orange in color. Not only did it hover, but it also moved around “like a yo-yo on a string,” before leaving the area, he said.
His work has appeared on TV, in magazines, in newspapers such as the National Inquirer and UFO Magazine and is included in the 1969 Library of Congress book UFOs and Related Subjects: An Annotated Bibliography, according to an article published on The Mutual UFO Network of North Carolina (MUFON-NC) website in 2011. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research contracted with the federal government to publish the book, the site said.
Fawcett additionally helped found and served as chief advisor of at least five UFO study groups throughout the nation, and for three years, taught the course “UFOs: A New Frontier of Science” at the Gaston College Lincoln Campus in Lincolnton.
In recent years, he whittled down his 300 filing cabinets of research information to just two, and shortly before he died, he donated just about everything he had to the International UFO Museum and Research Center.
However, there were more sides to Fawcett’s life than his contributions to the UFO world.
“People just know him for the UFOs, but he did so much more,” Shirley said.
Not only did he letter in a variety of sports throughout high school and college, even playing a basketball game with fellow schoolmate Andy Griffith in Mount Airy, but he also worked at Mohican Mills in Lincolnton.
He worked as as a reporter, advertiser and photographer for a now-defunct Maiden newspaper. According to the Mount Airy News, he served for a time as manager of the Maiden Times.
He directed six different YMCAs across the country, including the establishment of one in DeLand, Fla., and assisted his wife Shirley with her former Lincolnton restaurant the Super Sub Sandwich Shop, where she said the pair first met in 1975.
“I found him very interesting,” she said.
The couple married nine months later and were together 36 years.
Shirley said she often accompanied him on his travels to do college lectures and other public-speaking engagements.
“One thing I always admired about him was that before every mutual UFO network meeting, he would insist it be opened with prayer, and no one ever objected,” she said. “It was surprising.”
Laurie also remembered tagging alongside her father during his UFO research, something she said he called his “magnificent obsession.” One night the pair even went to investigate a pasture fire in their pajamas.
“The Geiger counter just kept clicking,” she said. “It was very exciting.”
She considered her father a “small-town guy” who was not only “spiritual” and sang in his church choir at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Lincolnton, but also kept quite active in politics and community.
He particularly looked out for his community during his YMCA days in Florida by teaching swimming lessons to the local children using neighborhood pools since the organization didn’t have one at the time, Laurie said.
Fawcett also actively worked to desegregate the YMCA in the 1960s and made sure anyone who wanted to attend the facility could get there.
“He really believed in equality,” Laurie said.
Ruth Swanto said she was just 15 years old and a student at DeLand High School when she joined the “Tri-Hi-Y” service club, for women only, in the fall of 1968 and worked as one of Fawcett’s “right-hand men.” Male students comprised the “Hi-Y” club, she said.
She told the Times-News that as part of her club membership, she would make calls to current YMCA donors, asking them to increase their yearly donations.
The organization didn’t have a staff at the time, and she would do her volunteer work from a small room on the second-floor of a local office building.
“He (Fawcett) was like our leader, but we had a lady volunteer sponsor, too,” Swanto said of the club.
She laughed at the memory of how she used to throw basketballs and other athletic balls from her second-story office down to Fawcett, whom she said would store them in his family’s station wagon.
“He was a one-man show,” she said.
However, like everyone else who knew Fawcett, Swanto heard his popular stories of the cosmos.
“We were always fascinated by his interest in UFOs, and we all had a great appreciation for him because he really knew his stuff,” she said.
Swanto and 25 other DeLand High School alumni who volunteered for the YMCA during its humble beginnings held a reception for Fawcett for the facility’s 40th anniversary.
“All of us have gone on to be more successful professionals and community members for knowing him,” Swanto said. “He touched our lives.”
From working with children to engaging the world with his knowledge of UFOs, Laurie knew her father was special.
“He was the most optimistic person I’ve ever known,” she said. “He would say, ‘I never met a stranger.’”
And to the Lincolnton community, he was anything but a stranger.
“He was a really sweet man,” City Lunch waitress Lorna Greer told the Times-News on Thursday. She said Fawcett stopped by the local eatery at least once every day for more than a decade and always ordered two hot dogs with slaw and mustard.
“I think he kept a record of them and ate over 1,000,” Lorna said. “He also helped me clean off my tables and kept everyone in line.”
More than anything, Fawcett lived life with a grateful heart and often piped out one of his favorite phrases, which stemmed from his beloved movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“He would say, ‘No matter what happens, I want you to know I’ve had the most wonderful life; how many people can say that all their dreams came true,’” Laurie said.
He also encouraged her over the years to find a a topic in life, like his love for UFOs, about which she could similarly be passionate.
In addition to his wife and daughter Laurie, Fawcett is survived by son Christopher Fawcett; stepdaughter Kelly Salinas of Lincolnton; stepson Mark Freeman of Marietta, Ga.; sister Elizabeth Burke of Mt. Airy; 10 step-grandchildren and two step-great-grandchildren.
Memorials may be made to Hospice of Lincoln County, 107 N. Cedar Street, Lincolnton, N.C. 28092, or to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 315 N. Cedar Street, Lincolnton, N.C. 28092.
For more facts on Fawcett or to read his tribute from The Mutual UFO Network of North Carolina , visit mufon-nc.org.