Nicholas Upton was a constant source of love and comfort to his family and friends, his father said.
Whether it was during a practice for the men’s rowing team or when he decided what weekend party to attend, Jim Upton said his son would always stress the value of teamwork and unity to the people around him.
“He led by example. He didn’t dictate. He was more like a subtle leader,” Jim Upton said. “And that was really gratifying, that he was able to inspire people just by his own actions.”
Upton’s body was recovered off the coast of South Africa on Friday, after he was presumed drowned. He was last seen swimming with friends in the East Cape Province on Sunday, Aug. 30. Upton, 19, was one of several GW students studying abroad at Cape Town University.
Jim Upton said his son, an international affairs major, knew he wanted to work in the intelligence community after graduation and was always interested in Africa. When Nicholas Upton attended Joel Barlow High School in his hometown of Redding, Conn., he pushed school administrators to let him take Swahili through a software program when he found that no African languages were offered to students.
Junior Connor Barrett met Nicholas Upton on his first night at college, when he saw Upton dressed in one of his “classic” Hawaiian T-shirts.
It was that shirt, Barrett said, that signaled to him Upton would be “an interesting character.”
Barrett, who was on the rowing team with Upton, said he remembers him as “a person of great kindness and moderation.” He said Upton could always make people laugh, often ending small fights among their teammates with his dry sense of humor.
“In a world in which people have become increasingly judgmental of one another, Nick was one of the few people I have met that truly did not care how others felt about him, and he chose to live his life the way he deemed fit,” Barrett said in an email. “He lived his life to the fullest, and always challenged us to leave our dorm rooms and explore the world with him.”
Barrett added that he would give “a lot in this world in order to spend just one more day with Nick.”
“He will be sorely missed, by myself and my team. I truly believe that Nick, whether in this world or another, is lying on a beach somewhere using his humor and wit to make people laugh,” Barrett said.
Deepa Shivaram, a junior, met Upton when they arrived in South Africa to study abroad. She said he listened to NPR and read technology blogs in his free time, knew how to “have fun and be silly” and was always ready for a hike or “the next adventure.”
Shivaram, who is a Hatchet videographer, said when their study abroad program visited Hout Bay Market near Cape Town, she and Upton got separated from their group. They wandered around the market for half an hour before deciding what to eat, she said.
“He made so much fun of me for being indecisive, but we found amazing Chinese food in the end. After eating, we swung by this hat stall and I’m pretty sure Nick and I tried on every hat in the shop. We were cracking up the whole time,” Shivaram said in an email.
Shivaram said she had been looking forward to seeing Upton around campus when they returned from South Africa.
“Although I only knew him for two months, I learned a lot from Nick,” she said. “I know I can speak for everyone here when I say the rest of our time here won’t be the same without him.”
Local officials called off the search for Upton on Tuesday, and Upton’s mother and her husband flew to South Africa to hire a private search company. Since Tuesday, a kickstarter campaign to pay for the search team and travel expenses has raised more than $83,000.
Upton’s friends and teammates held a vigil for him on campus last week. Members of Upton’s fraternity, Kappa Alpha, also called or visited members of Congress last week, pushing them to keep up the search efforts.
Athletic director Patrick Nero said in an email that the athletic department is “deeply affected” by Upton’s disappearance.
“At this difficult time for the Upton family and the GW community, we are remembering Nick’s passion for life and the impact that he made on those around him, including his brothers on our rowing team and in his fraternity at GW,” Nero said in an email.
Mark Davis, the men’s rowing coach, described Upton as a strong student, talented rower and “friend to all.”
“We hold Nick’s family and friends in our hearts and on our minds,” he said.
Colleen Murphy contributed reporting.