Clarence Fanto: 'Her's is a legacy that will go on'



When friends and family pay tribute to Jane Fitzpatrick at the First Congregational Church in Stockbridge on Monday, it will be "a simple, New England Protestant service, because that's who she was."

So said her daughter Nancy during a conversation last Monday at the Red Lion Inn. It was two days after her mother's death and just short of her mom's 90th birthday, which would have been tomorrow. A public reception at the Norman Rockwell Museum will follow the 11 a.m. memorial service.

Nancy offered emotion-filled reminiscences mixed with cleareyed candor about her mother's role as Berkshire County's most widely admired female entrepreneur and philanthropist.

The sendoff will differ from the memorial for her father, she explained. "Jack" Fitzpatrick, who died July 23, 2011, was feted at Tanglewood's 1,200-seat Ozawa Hall with music, including a BSO brass band playing "When the Saints Go Marching In," and eulogies by family members, friends and politicians.

At the end, Jane Fitzpatrick stood up, waved and voiced a soft "thank you" to the crowd.

"A lot of my father's service was programmed around making my mother feel good and proud," said Nancy Fitzpatrick, "and this time, it's going to be more low-key."

Among many fond memories, she cited her father's campaign for state Senate as her favorite.

"It was a great time for us as a family," Fitzpatrick explained. "We worked together toward a common goal, and out the window went our differences of opinion, the things that caused friction. There was such joy to have success at this shared endeavor. I remember that as a real high point."

She noted that her late father's Massachusetts Senate service from 1973-80 brought the family to prominence statewide and "really broadened my parents' lives a lot it was very enriching to them, particularly to my mother." Jane Fitzpatrick served on the Massachusetts Cultural Council, setting the stage for the family's generous contributions to a long list of Berkshire arts venues, and other nonprofits.

"There were wonderful dinners together," Fitzpatrick added, "but it was when we got out of town that we had the most fun. It was hard; there were so many distractions in the Berkshires that I practically had to make an appointment to see my mother. It was always so busy here that we didn't really get to spend quality time together."

But an annual summer retreat to the historic town of Lismore, Ireland, gave family members a chance to relax and enjoy each other's company, Fitzpatrick recalled.

Her parents' purchase of the rundown Red Lion Inn in 1968, saving it from potential demolition, "was just amazing, when you think about it," she said. But Fitzpatrick noted jovially that she has an "exit plan," pointing out that her stepdaughter Sarah "has stepped up to the plate and is going to be filling my shoes."

The plan is "for Sarah to make sure I have nothing to do," she said, chuckling. Fitzpatrick plans to resume her series of 20-mile a day cross-country walks - she has made it to Nebraska and looks forward to resuming the trek.

"So, I've sort of made myself unavailable, and it was really my mother who was keeping me here, more than anything."

For many in the Berkshires, her parents' support of the arts remains their greatest gift and most enduring legacy.

"They were true believers and practitioners of the creative economy before that phrase was even coined," Fitzpatrick said. "They knew that without the arts, the Red Lion Inn could never survive."

Fitzpatrick emphasized that with the passing of her mother, "we're going to do our best to perpetuate many of the things that she stood for in the businesses going forward."

As for the donations, they will continue "to the fullest extent that we can," she said. "I don't expect to be in that financial position right now, for a while. My personal philosophy is to share more of that with the people that make it happen, our employees, and let them become givers.

"It's amazing what happens when you decide to make philanthropic donations. We'll try to keep it going. It's a daunting task because they did so much. We're trying to lower people's expectations."

The Boston Symphony at Tanglewood and the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge - now part of the Berkshire Theatre Group based at Pittsfield's Colonial - have been among the greatest beneficiaries of the family's largesse.

But, as BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe stressed in a phone interview, Jane Fitzpatrick's impact "goes far beyond financial dimensions of incredible generosity. I think of her as a great friend and adviser." She was a life trustee of the orchestra and was closely involved with the orchestra over the decades.

"Her's is a legacy that will go on," Volpe said. "She was the personification of the Berkshires."

Another eloquent tribute came from Kate Maguire, CEO and artistic director of the Berkshire Theatre Group, BTF and the Colonial.

In a letter to the editor published last Wednesday, she asserted that "it cannot be the end of an era. It would be a disservice to Jane. We may not again see the likes of such a singular woman, but as a community we are stronger because of her indomitable spirit and remarkable gifts."

Many of us wholeheartedly endorse Maguire's challenge: "As a community, it is our responsibility to protect her legacy - to further enrich all that we have so that our children will thrive as we have and to make sure her memory is eternal."


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