John H. Fitzpatrick
John H. Fitzpatrick
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — John Hitchcock “Jack” Fitzpatrick, 88, a passionate and involved citizen of the Berkshires for over 50 years, died peacefully at home on July 23, 2011. Always called “Jack,” he was born on April 5, 1923, in Quincy, Massachusetts, to Clarence E. and Clara Hitchcock Fitzpatrick. His father was a successful department store owner who died when Jack was a year old.
His mother moved with Jack and his older sister, Joanne, to Rome, Italy, where Clara studied singing for four years, making her debut as Azucena in Il Trovadore. Summers were spent in Switzerland, beginning Jack’s lifelong love of all things Swiss. On returning to her home state of Vermont, Clara married Lawrence Jones, a Rutland lawyer who later became attorney general of Vermont. They resided on Lincoln Avenue in Rutland.
Jack met his future wife and business partner, Jane Hayes Pratt, at Rutland High School. Their first date was on Jane’s 15th birthday. He completed high school at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. After one year at Williams College, he enlisted in the Army. He and Jane were married on September 7, 1944, at The Little Church Around the Corner in New York City. It was on the second of three 12-hour leaves before he shipped to Germany. He spent three years in the 102nd Infantry Division and was awarded a Bronze Star in 1945. After the war, Jack continued his education at Middlebury College. Jack and Jane bought a farm in nearby Shoreham where they took in boarders while he was a student. In 1951, he received a law degree from Boston University.
When he did not pass the Vermont bar (“Best thing that ever happened to me,” he recently quipped.), Jack followed his late father into the dry goods business. He began his career at Quincy-based Lincoln Stores with headquarters in his father’s building. After stints in Syracuse, New Bedford, Quincy, Fitchburg and Nashua, Jack was transferred to Pittsfield. The couple sold their farm in Vermont in order to afford a large house on Main Street in Stockbridge.
The extra space was needed for a fledgling business they had started in 1956 while living in Whitman, Massachusetts. Jack had been intrigued by the mail order business model, and had observed that the curtain department was one of the Lincoln Stores’ most successful profit centers. When the chain’s owners were not interested in pursuing his idea of mail order, he and Jane proceeded on their own, founding Country Curtains, the country’s first specialty mail order curtain company. Jane drew the artwork, Jack wrote the copy and in April 1956, their first ad appeared in the Boston Sunday Herald. They were committed to superior quality and service, and became pioneers and role models in the catalog industry.
Country Curtains soon outgrew the Fitzpatrick home and relocated to the Curtain Shed, a former carriage barn on the corner of Pine and Shamrock streets in Stockbridge. In 1960, Jack was able to resign from his position at Lincoln’s. He took his family to Europe for a year, leaving Country Curtains in the trusted hands of Jane’s sister, Zoa Campetti. Jack explored many countries with Jane and spent time in Switzerland, where his two daughters attended school.
In 1968, with the Curtain Shed bursting at the seams, they purchased The Red Lion Inn, sparing it from the threat of demolition. After renovations, the inn opened for year-round business in May 1969. Country Curtains was ensconced in the back part of the former dining room. Just three years later, a two-story addition to house the fast-growing company was constructed on the flat Red Lion kitchen roof.
A love of restoring old buildings, matched with a yen to try setting up his own curtain factory, prompted Jack in 1974 to purchase the former machine shop in Housatonic’s Monument Mills complex. In 1976, Housatonic Curtain Co. began sewing curtains and related textile products exclusively for Country Curtains.
At the other end of the historic preservation spectrum, the Fitzpatricks purchased Blantyre, the Lenox great estate in 1980. The derelict Gilded Age cottage was extensively restored and opened as an elegant country house hotel in 1981. Daughter Ann Fitzpatrick Brown currently owns and operates Blantyre, and Nancy Jane Fitzpatrick owns and operates The Red Lion Inn.
Politics was woven through all these years. Always an activist and participant in community affairs, Jack was a diehard Republican and a passionate advocate for two-party government in Boston. After an unsuccessful run against State Senator Andrea Nuciforo in 1972, he won a special election the following year after Nuciforo became a judge. He served the First District from 1973 to 1980. He was named to the Senate Ways and Means Committee in 1979. Other committee appointments included Commerce and Labor, Natural Resources, and Public Service and Social Welfare. In 1974, he was chosen as one of four Legislators of the Year by the Massachusetts League of Cities and Towns. Jack’s many lasting friendships from his Senate years crossed both sides of the aisle. He was especially proud of grandson Alexander’s love of politics and debating.
Jack was responsible for starting skiing and skating programs for young people in Stockbridge. The Laurel Hill Association of Stockbridge, the oldest village improvement society in the U.S., bestowed its first Community Service Award to Jack in 1989. He was past president of the Stockbridge Golf Club, and a Corporator of the Trustees of Reservations. In August 2010, the Town of Stockbridge named the town green adjacent to The Red Lion Inn for Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick. For over 25 years, he enjoyed playing Santa Claus at The Red Lion on the Saturday before Christmas. His grandson, Casey, once remarked that Santa looks a lot like Grampa, but “Santa is a lot more magicaler (sic) than Grampa.” Some would argue with that observation of his larger-than-life grandfather.
A natural athlete, Jack was an avid fan of all the New England teams. He was also an intrepid golfer who considered the game an important life skill for the successful man. His Red Lion Inn Pro Am Invitational Golf Tournament (later the Norman Rockwell Red Lion Inn Tournament) was a fixture on many golfers’ calendars for over 20 years. Jack was the life of countless parties, often involving enthusiastic singing around a piano, once his accordion was consigned to a tag sale.
Senator Fitzpatrick received many citations from the Commonwealth including the Golden Dome Citation for distinguished service. He received honorary doctorates from North Adams State College (now Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), Green Mountain College (his mother’s alma mater) and Westfield State University.
Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick are widely known for their philanthropy. The Boston Symphony Orchestra, The Berkshire Theatre Festival, The Norman Rockwell Museum, Jacob’s Pillow, Shakespeare & Company, MASS MoCA, The Mahaiwe Performing Art Center and The Colonial Theatre and the United Way are among scores of organizations and individuals in the Berkshires and beyond to receive funding from them personally or through their foundation. Jack took great pleasure in touring the concert halls of Europe and Japan with the Boston Symphony.
Jack was proudest, however, of creating hundreds of jobs, here in the Berkshires at Country Curtains and the inns, in 26 Country Curtains stores in 13 states, and at curtain factories in Housatonic, Massachusetts, and West Hartford, Connecticut. He felt enormous affection for and gratitude toward the employees who were partners in his success.
In addition to his wife of nearly 67 years and his two daughters, Nancy and Ann, two grandsons survive him. He was a powerful and inspiring influence on Nancy’s son, Casey M. Rothstein-Fitzpatrick, and Ann’s son, Alexander John F. Brown. He was also an important figure in the lives of Nancy’s three stepchildren, Sarah Eustis, Michael Rothstein and Morgan Russell and husband Lincoln Russell. He was the beloved patriarch of a large, extended family including many nieces and nephews.
Burial will be private. The family will receive friends at The Red Lion Inn Wednesday, July 27, from 4 to 7.
The memorial service will be held Monday, Aug. 8, at 3 p.m. at First Congregational Church on Main Street in Strockbridge.
Donations in Jack’s memory may be made to Trustees of Reservations, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Berkshire Theater Festival or The Norman Rockwell Museum, through Finnerty & Stevens Funeral Home, 426 Main St., Great Barrington, MA 01230. Remembrances, memories and reflections may be sent to the family through www.finnertyandstevens.com.