2012 Winner: Greg Fawcett
I first started going to Key West in the mid ‘90s for lobster season with a group of friends. For the first couple of years we stayed at a house on Petronia Street during the month of August. In 1998 we rented a house on Elizabeth Street a block off Green. A couple of us came to Key West the weekend before Sportsman Season to do some yellow tail fishing and scout for lobster holes. That Saturday night I decided to walk down to Duval Street. As I was walking up Green Street, I notice a huge, loud crowd flowing out of Sloppy Joe’s. I soon discovered it was the finals of the Hemingway Look-a-Like contest. That’s when it all started. I hung out and watched Don Duncan become Papa 1998. I remember walking back to the rental thinking, “I’ve got to do this, what fun.”
I already had an affinity for Hemingway. I had read Old Man and the Sea as a requirement for an English ligature class, but my interest blossomed when I was assigned to Naval Station Rota, Spain in the late ‘60s. I loved Spain, and Hemingway’s works along with James Michener’s became my reference source to better understand Spanish history, culture and even a travel guide for places of interest. My attraction to Hemingway carried with me. I branched out to non-Spain books. I chose a passage from Islands in the Stream as my interpretive reading for my required undergraduate speech class having no idea that as I aged I would come to resemble the author.
The births of my first two grandchildren delayed my return to Key West, but in 2003, I entered the contest for the first time. I was clueless. I had refreshed my memory on some Hemingway quotes, but after my 15 seconds on Thursday I was done, but I had a great time and was far from discouraged. The next year I was still clueless. I had yet to figure out that to be successful, you had to be all in and participate in all the activities, not just show up for your night on stage. Each year I made more friends and finally started to absorb the constructive advice from the Papas and other competitors. In 2005 I came down early so I could attend the Wednesday cocktail gathering. I still did not make it to Saturday, but left even more determined.
In the winter of 2006 I attended the mid-year event, and it was there that some of what I know will be life long bonds began with friends /competitors and Papas. The following July, I made it to Saturday night. Talk about being excited. Getting up there Saturday night with the rest of the finalists was phenomenal. I made the finals the next two years. Of course I wanted to win, but just being on the stage Saturday night was a victory, plus I was having a terrific time and getting to hang out with some great friends. In May 2009 I lost my wife to pancreatic cancer. She had been with me at every event helping me with my social skills, schmoozing the Mamas and making sure I did not drink too much. I was equivocating on going until my three kids demanded that I attend. I looked forward to the contest every year, and they said it would be the best way to get started moving on with my life. That year I did not make it to the finals on Saturday night. For the first time since I started competing I was disappointed, but intellectually I knew my heart was not in it that year and it showed. Although I was not on stage Saturday night, the support and compassion from my Hemingway friends was incredibly cathartic and what I needed. I left that year more resolute than ever.
In 2012, when they call my name as Papa 2012, the flood of emotions was overwhelming. At first disbelief, then excitement, remorse that my wife was not there to share the moment, happiness of seeing my two daughters in the crowd jumping and screaming, and a huge feeling of accomplishment. It was an incredible moment that I doubt will ever be duplicated during the rest of my life.