George R. Hawthorne, a retired Army Corps of Engineers officer known as “The Colonel” to his friends – as well as by the public officials and newspaper staffers in Santa Fe whom he regularly excoriated – has passed away at age 95.
His family said in an obituary notice that Hawthorne, a native of Ohio, died on Tuesday.
Hawthorne was a familiar figure around Santa Fe, known for his long white beard, which hung down to his chest; the historic military uniforms he often wore; his keen interest in public affairs, particularly water issues, and the history of Santa Fe and Los Alamos; and his propensity for trying to set both government leaders and reporters straight when he believed they were wrong.
“He was a pistol,” said Ronald Bybee, Hawthorne’s friend of 43 years and proprietor of Santa Fe Lock and Key.
“He did a lot of good work and pissed off a lot of people,” Bybee added. “That was just his attitude.”
One newspaper article about Hawthorne from several years ago was headlined: “A Thorn In The Water System’s Side.”
He was often at the Journal’s Santa Fe office, usually offering history lessons intended to show how the paper or City Hall or state government got something wrong about topics ranging from water rights to property taxes to the Rail Runner train’s use of interstate right of way and Santa Fe’s World War II internment camp for Japanese-Americans from the West Coast.
Hawthorne may have been best known in his later years as a colorful curmudgeon, but he also had a distinguished career as an engineer that included stints at both Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project years and what is now Sandia National Laboratories, where he met his late wife, Donelle Carson.
Bybee has accumulated three binders full of photos, military records and other Hawthorne memorabilia at his shop, creating what amounts to an unofficial biography of the man.
A 1947 document shows that Hawthorne was supervisor of construction and maintenance of all facilities at Sandia.
Some of his military orders detailing service in Europe during World War II have Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s name on them.
In an old article from the Los Alamos Monitor, he talks about having to deal with a frozen water line in a canyon when Los Alamos was new. “We had to build everything from scratch,” he told the newspaper.
He also worked in civil engineering for the Zia Company in Los Alamos, for Bill Turney & Associates engineering firm in Santa Fe, and the New Mexico Highway Department. One article in Bybee’s collection says Hawthorne was the original planner of Santa Fe’s St. Francis Drive.
Once he retired from the military, Hawthorne operated the Kings Rest Court motel in Santa Fe for 15 years.
Bybee has dozens of photos of Hawthorne in his old military uniforms dating from the 1940s and other eras, not to mention in a motorcycle jacket and with a 1946 Harley Davidson he brought back from Germany.
For more than 30 years, Hawthorne led the Fourth of July parade in Pagosa Springs, Colo., making a striking impression with his beard and full military dress.
The family’s obituary notes, “George is best known by his nickname ‘The Colonel.’ ”
A graveside service will be held for Hawthorne on April 6, at 11 a.m. at Fairview Memorial Park in Albuquerque. George R. Hawthorne, 1918-2013
George R. Hawthorne, 1918-2013