Ewan Fletcher, 97; founded Ledgemont Laboratories

Ewan Fletcher launched Ledgemont Laboratories to explore uses of precious metals.
1966 globe staff file
Ewan Fletcher launched Ledgemont Laboratories to explore uses of precious metals.

When a hurricane approached Ewan Fletcher’s Concord home, “he didn’t take cover,” said his daughter Roberta Heisterkamp.

“Instead, he started plotting a chart of barometric pressure,” she said. “As the eye of the storm got closer, he showed us how it was going down.”

A problem solver who was infinitely curious, Dr. Fletcher had a “whole different point of view” than most people, said his daughter, who added that he was “always trying to figure out why things did what they did.”


A former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who launched Ledgemont Laboratories in Lexington and ran it for nearly two decades, Dr. Fletcher died May 2 in his Lenox home of complications from dementia. He was 97.

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Ledgemont, a research lab funded by the mining company Kennecott Copper, was founded in 1962. It attracted prominent scientists from all over the world to explore metallurgical theory and scientific uses for copper.

In 1966, Dr. Fletcher told the Globe that he chose a 15-acre site in Lexington for the lab because he believed a rural setting, combined with the proximity of Boston, would attract top researchers.

Although Kennecott Copper would have preferred a location closer to New York City, Dr. Fletcher prevailed, telling the Globe that “neither the company nor I have regretted being here.”

He described his staff of about 100 as “a group of professionals who have an eye on the world,” and that they are “alert to what is going on.”


When the lab closed in 1980, in part due to copper shortages, Dr. Fletcher retired to Williamstown. There he used his energy-efficiency expertise to design and build a home that was highly-insulated, solar-powered, and free of fossil fuels.

“It was very toasty,” his daughter, who lives in Denver, said describing the house Dr. Fletcher sold before moving with his wife to a retirement community in Lenox eight years ago. “Visitors used to ask to see the basement to make sure that he wasn’t hiding a furnace down there.”

Italo Servi, an engineer and longtime friend who worked with Dr. Fletcher at Ledgemont for many years, said he “loved his work, but he also enjoyed life and wanted everyone around him to enjoy life, too.”

Dr. Fletcher was an expert sailor, Servi said, and often took friends on excursions up and down the New England coastline.

Servi recalled that on one occasion, Dr. Fletcher consulted a map to find the best route back to shore when his boat was caught in a storm.


“It didn’t take long for him to realize that the map was inaccurate, it was wrong,” Servi said. “So he charted his own course instead and found shelter.”

Olga O’Brien, another former colleague, said Dr. Fletcher was “truly loved” by the staff at Ledgemont.

At reunions after the lab closed, “everyone always said they’d never realized how wonderful Dr. Fletcher was to work for until they got other jobs,” she said. “He was so kind and laid-back, just an exceptional man in every way.”

Ewan Watts Fletcher was born in Portland, Maine, in 1916. He grew up in Pawtucket, where his father, a Scottish immigrant, worked as a butcher.

“He grew up in a working-class neighborhood with very few resources,” said his stepdaughter Elizabeth Roberts, the lieutenant governor of Rhode Island.

She added that he “really made himself by succeeding in school, and by paying his own way” at Brown University, from which he graduated in 1938 with a degree in engineering.

Dr. Fletcher graduated from Harvard University with a master’s degree and a doctorate in applied physics. His family said he wrote his dissertation on the atomic clock.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he tried to enlist in the Navy but was told he could better serve his country by staying home and teaching soldiers.

For the duration of World War II he taught Harvard students in the ROTC.

When the war ended, Dr. Fletcher taught at what today is known as Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, but his family said a desire to live in Greater Boston brought him back to the area, where he taught at MIT. There, he researched the properties of glass for electronic data storage and taught in the electronics department.

While Dr. Fletcher was still at MIT, Kennecott Copper asked him to create Ledgemont Labs.

His marriage to Kathleen Behre, who died in 1998, ended in divorce.

In 1977, he met Virginia Boutwell through mutual friends. They married in 1978.

“He was an academic, a quiet and reserved person,” she said of her husband, who favored string bow ties and distinctive hats and was known to take stairs two at a time until he was well into his 90s.

With his wife, Dr. Fletcher traveled often, and they enjoyed the performance arts available in the Berkshires region.

Along with tinkering in his workshop and exploring alternative energy solutions, Dr. Fletcher was passionate about his pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee, his family said.

In 1999, he attended an opening of the Peet’s Coffee & Tea chain in Greater Boston.

“One cup and I was convinced this was the best,” Dr. Fletcher, who had first tried Peet’s coffee during a visit to Berkeley, Calif., told the Globe that October. “I’ve been a customer ever since.”

A service will be announced for Dr. Fletcher, who in addition to his wife, daughter, and stepdaughter leaves two other daughters, Nancy Bardach of Berkeley, Calif., and Susanne Mareina of Ocala, Fla.; four other stepdaughters, Joanne Ketchie of Raleigh, N.C., Jennifer Howlett of Williamstown, Anne Houser of Manchester, Vt., and Louise Howlett of Middletown, Del.; a stepson, Christopher Howlett of Lovettsville, Va.; a sister, Phyllis Stevens of Lexington; nine grandchildren, 13 step-grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

Dr. Fletcher’s three daughters grew up to become a mathematician and computer specialist; a racehorse trainer; and an architect. Heisterkamp said they benefited from their father’s encouragement and his belief in equality for women.

“He was the kind of father who said there is nothing a woman can’t do, so go ahead and do whatever you like,” she said. “He was way ahead of his time and gave us gifts we didn’t realize back then.”

Kathleen McKenna can be reached at kmck66@