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Willard, historian of Lost Colony, dies after fall from tree

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Fred Willard and Andrew Lawler, a National Geographic writer and Lost Colony enthusiast, are shown in front of the pin oak tree where the "second possible Eleanore Dare stone"' was found on the Byrum Farm in Chowan County. Willard has died at age 77, his wife said.

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Chowan Herald

Sunday, October 22, 2017

EDENTON — Frederick Lawson Willard, a local historian best known for his appearance in the History Channel's “Roanoke: Search for the Lost Colony” mini-series, died recently in a hunting accident. He was 77.

According to Willard's obituary, Willard was killed when he became stuck climbing up a deer stand, lost his balance and fell 20 feet to the ground on Oct. 17 at the Mount Prospect farm near Leggett in Edgecombe County.  

Willard’s wife and business partner, Kathryn Louise Sugg Willard, said in an email that she witnessed her husband get stuck in the tree stand and fall.

“I was supervising his climb up the deer stand from about 100 feet away, so my scent wouldn't spoil his hunting,” Sugg Willard said. “He wanted so much to go hunting that day, and I had watched him make climbs like that dozens of times in the 12 years we had known each other. So when he became stuck right at the top of that stand, I was surprised, but still not alarmed.”

Willard said she remained calm as best as she could.

“But then I saw him fall! I screamed and ran to him as fast as I could. He was still conscious, and he said, 'Roll me over.' So for a brief moment, I still had this hope that, OK, maybe this isn't as bad a nightmare as I feared,” she said. “But I was wrong. It was horrible! ... I begged him to go to the hospital, to not be stubborn — he didn't care for doctors very much — but he just said, 'Hold me up. Let me look at the farm.'”

Sugg Willard said she was holding her husband as he died.

Fred Willard was the creator and head of the Lost Colony Center for Science and Research, Inc., a nonprofit archaeological organization that initially was known as The Croatan Group. After contracting Lyme disease more than 30 years ago, Willard decided to dedicate his life to solving a mystery that’s stumped historians for centuries: the disappearance of the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island in 1587.

According to Sugg Willard, her husband had known, due to his age and health, there was a high probability he might not live to see the mystery of the Lost Colony solved. But he wanted to make sure the work of solving the mystery could continue without him, so he and Sugg Willard established the Sugg-Willard Foundation. The foundation funds their research and provides scholarships to college students interested in studying archaeology, coastal North Carolina Native Americans, and the first English colonial settlements in America.

In addition to being an archaeologist, Willard was also a hunter, fisherman, champion tree farmer, lawyer, marina owner and champion wrestler/wrestling coach.

“You can say many things about him,” Sugg Willard said. “But one thing you cannot say is that his life was ever dull!”

Besides his wife, Willard is survived by a son, daughter and grandson.

A funeral service for Willard will be held at Calvary Episcopal Church in Tarboro on Wednesday, Nov. 1, at 2 p.m. But since Willard is being cremated, Sugg Willard plans to scatter his ashes at several sites: the place in Buxton where the word “Croatan” was found marked on a tree after the Roanoke colonists disappeared; the Waratan site in Edenton featured on the History Channel's “Roanoke” mini-series; his home in East Lake; Mt. Prospect in Leggett; and the Lost Colony Center in Williamston.

The website for Willard’s research is www.lost-colony.com.

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