Eric Fawcett 1927-2000

Born and brought up in Lancashire, Eric went to Clare College, Cambridge, following military service in the Royal Navy. He read Natural Sciences, choosing physics for his final year, and continued on at Cambridge to obtain a PhD in experimental physics — the physics of metals — in 1954, under the supervision of Brian Pippard (later, Sir Brian Pippard). Eric’s dynamic career took him from Cambridge to the National Research Council in Ottawa, and then to the Royal Radar Establishment, Malvern, the Bell Telephone Labs, Murray Hill, New Jersey, and to the University of Toronto as full professor in 1970. From the University of Toronto he made extended visits to at least thirteen other universities and institutes all over the world for the purpose of scientific collaboration. After retirement in 1993, the collaborative research received even more emphasis for some years.

While Eric’s 150 excellent scientific papers are well known to specialists internationally, he will be more widely remembered in Canada for his role in stimulating public consciousness of the dangers of war waged with weapons of mass destruction. He was at one time or another a participant in, or a board member of at least 10 peace organizations, including the International Network of Engineers and Scientists and the International Peace Bureau. In 1980 he became a participant in the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize with its president, Prof. Joe Rotblat.

In 1981 Eric played the central role in founding Science for Peace and served as its first President (1981-4), as Vice-President (1990-2, 1997-8) and President (1995-7), and in various key roles all other years. Outstanding among the achievements of the Working Groups of Science for Peace was the “Toronto Declaration” which set out general ethical considerations for scientific research. The Declaration has been widely circulated in Europe and helped some universities in Canada to formulate their ethical guidelines policies. Eric was also co-founder of the Canadian Committee of scientists and scholars, which has the objective of defending and promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Despite Eric’s extraordinary level of activity in the public domain since 1980 his scientific research continued undiminished.

From the 1980s Eric extended his writing and editorial work into new fields. For instance, in 1994-5 he co-edited, with Hannah Newcombe, the important book, “United Nations Reform: Looking Ahead After Fifty Years” (Science for Peace, Dundurn series, 1995).

Especially throughout the 1980s Eric kept in close contact with leading Jewish physicists who had been fired from their research institutes or universities in the Soviet Union, and were treated as dissidents by their government. He and others, at some risk to all concerned, helped these scholars to keep up with current research by organizing seminars in cramped apartments, knowing that KGB agents were constantly surveying all comings and goings. He was willing to participate in any conference that might reduce international tensions and/or lead to an abatement of the nuclear arms race, and he several times went to Moscow to that end.

After a short and valiant struggle with cancer, Eric died peacefully on 2 September 2000. He is greatly missed by all his friends and colleagues and we extend our heartfelt condolences to his family.

In 1954 Eric married Pat, his close friend throughout his Clare college years. Their wedding marked the start of 46 more years of wonderful companionship and love. Pat survives him, together with their three children, Clare, Andrew and Ruth, and four grandsons — all testify to the excellent personal qualities of their beloved parent or grandfather.