Betsy McDonald

February 4, 2016
Stephen Bassett



In April of 2005 PRG held its second X-Conference at the Hilton Hotel in Gaithersburg, Maryland. There was an awards ceremony at the Saturday evening banquet at which time PRG gave a postumus Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. James McDonald. Accepting the award was his widow Betsy McDonald. Betsy also participated in a presentation and was part of the panel Q&A that ended the conference.


James McDonald was a highly respected scientist who studied at the University of Omaha, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and earned his Ph.D at Iowa State University. He taught at the University of Chicago for a year, then in 1953, went to the University of Arizona as a professor of meteorology; he eventually became the head of the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Tucson, Arizona.

The Southwest was interesting place to live in the 1950’s for many reasons. Moving there would change McDonald’s life forever. In 1954, while driving through the Arizona desert with two meteorologists, he spotted an unidentified flying object that none of the men could identify with established science. This sighting would spur McDonald’s interest in UFOs and by the late 1950’s he was investigating UFO reports in Arizona and consulting with the UFO research group NICAP.

Dr. McDonald would go on to raise the awareness of the UFO issue amongst the scientific community, which he did with relentless detail. He was driven, but also had a wife, six children and a job. He literally led two lives as he pursued a full professional career while traveling the country investigating and lecturing on UFO phenomena. He brought the issue directly to the scientific community with hundreds of presentations.  He believed the issue could be resolved with the application of disciplined and rigorous science. He almost succeeded.

From 1954 until 1968 Dr. McDonald posed a significant threat to the government imposed truth embargo. He was a truth seeker running into a wind that grew in strength with each passing year. He was surveilled and sometimes harassed. He was, of course, a target of ridicule from the uninformed or government cutouts, and all this came to a head when he testified at the last congressional hearing on the extraterrestrial presence issue in July of 1968 before the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. 

At the hearing members of the House Committee, in what was very likely planned in advance, went out of their way to humiliate Dr. McDonald, which helped to further shatter his faith in his government and drain his energy to continue the work. 

The path he had chosen put a terrible strain on his marriage. In March of 1971 his wife Betsy asked for a divorce. She had found solace in another man. A month later after secretly putting his affairs in order, McDonald shot himself in the head. He was 51.

In one of the great ironies in the history of science, this man who tried so hard to see the truth for all of us, failed in the attempt but was left blind. For two months he was confined to a wheel chair, and with his wife by his side, eventually recovered a bit of peripheral vision. 

On June 13, 1971 – twenty-four years after Roswell and twenty years before the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the Disclosure movement – Dr. McDonald secretly left the hospital, took a taxi to a quiet place outside of Tucson and shot himself one last time.

We know this mostly due to the work of Ann Druffel and her extraordinary book Firestorm: Dr. James E. McDonald’s Fight for UFO Science. This book has had more than one screenplay option and will most certainly become a major motion picture in the post-Disclosure era.

Betsy McDonald did not divorce her husband, never remarried, and did her best to keep his legacy in tact. She provided her testimony and her husband’s files to Druffel. She came to Gaithersburg, MD in 2005 and accepted his only lifetime achievement award. She spoke of his life to the audience.

Betsy died on December 7, 2015 in Tucson. She was 95. She lived a full life and gave life to six children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. But like her husband and so many others, she did not live to see the end of the truth embargo and the full vindication of his life’s work. 

Perhaps there are some in government who believe they can withhold the truth from the American people until all who supported or fought against the truth embargo are gone – including themselves. They are mistaken and will soon either speak truth to power or cower in their homes and offices while others speak for them. The truth embargo is no longer justified as a matter of national security. It has become an abomination, and it must end.

[Some of the above is quoted from the Wikipedia entry.]