Jane Pratt Fitzpatrick, Berkshire County philanthropist and businesswoman, dies at 89
STOCKBRIDGE — Berkshire philanthropist and entrepreneur Jane Pratt Fitzpatrick, the wife of the late John H. “Jack” Fitzpatrick, died on Saturday, according to family and business associates. She was 89.
Fitzpatrick died early Saturday morning at the family home on Prospect Hill after a long period of failing health. She was a native of Cuttingsville, Vt., a small town adjacent to Shrewsbury.
The Fitzpatricks founded the mail-order company Country Curtains in 1956 and are credited with saving the Red Lion Inn on Main Street after they bought it in 1968.
The couple were generous philanthropists throughout the Berkshires, supporting numerous arts and cultural organizations.
John Fitzpatrick died on July 23, 2011. The couple were married in New York City on Sept. 7, 1944.
Her death was first announced on Facebook by one of her two daughters, Nancy Fitzpatrick.
“My mother was remarkable, right to the end, which came quietly in her own bed in her beautiful house on the hill,” she wrote. “She certainly drew a lucky card in life, and so did I.”
PHOTO GALLERY | In Memory of Jane Fitzpatrick, 1923-2013
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, Nov. 18, at the First Congregational Church in Stockbridge followed by a reception at the Norman Rockwell Museum. Fitzpatrick would have turned 90 on that day. Burial will be private for the immediate family. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Stockbridge Library, P.O. Box 119, or The First Congregational Church, P.O. Box 825, Stockbridge MA 01262.
“On so many fronts in the Berkshires, this is a huge loss,” said state Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox. “It's almost an end of an era what she and Jack did.”
The Fitzpatricks founded Country Curtains in 1956. From modest beginnings at their home in the Plymouth County town of Whitman, the business and the family moved westward to Stockbridge two years later.
The business expanded to a 110,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center on Route 102 in Lee, manufacturing plants in Housatonic and West Hartford, Conn., 24 retail stores and more than 600 employees.
Also purchased by the Fitzpatricks and still owned by their daughter, Nancy, was the Red Lion Inn, while Ann Fitzpatrick Brown owns the Blantyre Inn in Lenox, which her family purchased in 1980. Other family enterprises include the Porches Inn in North Adams and the Elm Street Market in Stockbridge.
The Red Lion Inn was saved from potential demolition when Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick purchased the shuttered establishment for $125,000 in 1968. The venerable hotel was renovated and reopened a year later.
“We are saddened by the loss of Mrs. Fitzpatrick,” said Bruce Finn, general manager of the Red Lion Inn in an emailed statement. “We will continue to carry on the rich traditions of service and hospitality that the entire Fitzpatrick family have instilled throughout the decades. Their mission of supporting our communities is ingrained in our very core, and we look forward to carrying on that vital commitment into the future.”
Personal assistant Deborah McMenamy said she remembered Fitzpatrick primarily for her many contributions to the county's major and smaller nonprofits, notably Tanglewood, the Berkshire Theatre Festival — where she was board president for 23 years — and the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Fitzpatrick served as overseer, trustee and life trustee with Tanglewood and the BSO. She was a member of the building and grounds committee during the planning and construction of Ozawa Hall, and formed a close friendship with former BSO conductor Seiji Ozawa, who called her mama-san.
In an email, BSO Managing Director Mark Volpe called Fitzpatrick” a tireless advocate for Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra in so many ways, as trustee, adviser, music-lover, civic ambassador, fundraiser, philanthropist and friend.”
He continued, “Jane and Jack enjoyed close relationships with many fellow board members, staff and artists, and they were particularly close with [former BSO Music Director] Seiji Ozawa. Jane embraced the BSO, and in doing so made it an inextricable part of her life. She and Jack are an indelible part of the orchestra's rich history.”
Fitzpatrick was a founding board member and lead donor of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
“Jane was a wonderful mentor to me and a guardian angel to the Norman Rockwell Museum,” said Laurie Norton Moffatt, the museum's executive director. Fitzpatrick was a close friend of Norman and his wife, Molly, Moffatt said.
“We were always inspired by her eternal optimism that all things are possible, and her generosity of spirit was boundless to the museum and the community,” said Moffatt. “Her spirit lifted you along.”
Fitzpatrick was instrumental in “leading the charge” for the opening of the first museum at the Old Corner House in downtown Stockbridge in 1969 and, two decades later, the current, much larger museum at the former Linwood estate in the Glendale section of the town, according to Moffatt.
“I'll miss my friendship with Jane, and that elegance and wonderful spirit she shared with everyone,” said Moffatt, who credited Fitzpatrick for “helping shape a better world. We truly live a better life because of all that she and Jack have done from north to south in the county.”
The chairwoman of the Berkshire Theatre Festival for 22 years, Fitzpatrick started the “Save the Playhouse” campaign in 1975 which was credited with saving the theater company. Fitzpatrick's name topped the BTF's masthead as honorary chairwoman until her death.
“There wouldn't be a lot in our community if it weren't for Jane Fitzpatrick,” said Kate Maguire, the CEO and artistic director of the Berkshire Theater Group, which includes the BTF. “Everything in the Berkshires has been enhanced by her spirit and her go-to-it attitude.”
The Fitzpatricks were also benefactors of several other organizations from the Berkshire Botanical Garden to Berkshire Country Day School, the Colonial Theatre, and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Jane Fitzpatrick also served on the boards of the Berkshire Natural Resources Council and the Austen Riggs Center.
Through the High Meadow Foundation, their businesses and personal largesse, the Fitzpatricks made leadership philanthropic investments in the Berkshires' cultural life.
Jane Fitzpatrick served on the Massachusetts Cultural Council and was the recipient of its first Commonwealth Award in 1993, honoring her as a patron of the arts and humanities. From 1998 to 2001, she was recognized in “Working Woman” magazine as CEO and chairwoman of one of the top 500 women-owned companies in the U.S. Among many awards she and Jack received together was the 1997 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year for New England.
She was also awarded four honorary doctorates, from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, American International College and Westfield State University.
Jane M. Swift, of Williamstown, who rose from a state Senator to acting governor, was close to the Fitzpatricks, and says her political mentor was John Fitzpatrick, who served as a Republican state senator from 1973 to 1980.
Currently the CEO of Middlebury Interactive Languages in Middlebury, Vt., Swift characterized Jane Fitzpatrick's death as a “tremendous loss” not only for her family but “for the entire Berkshire community and beyond.”
“She did so much in business and philanthropy that her legacy will surely endure, but her presence will be sorely missed,” Swift said. McMenamy, a member of the Stockbridge Select Board, worked as Fitzpatrick's personal assistant for the past 16 years. The two met at the First Congregational Church and the Stockbridge Golf Club 30 years ago.
“She had a wonderful life, a great run,” she said. “She led a very interesting, exciting and full life, and was beloved by many.”
“She gave local people so many employment opportunities,” McMenamy said. “My two kids had their first jobs at the Red Lion Inn.”
Said McMenamy, “Jane was very approachable, related to people in a very personal way. Though she was larger than life in the community, she was so easy to talk with.”
“She was the best boss, she and Jack were terrific to work for,” McMenamy said. “She was always so thoughtful about birthdays for employees, very thoughtful of the little details in people's lives.”
McMenamy said that Fitzpatrick was proud of her Vermont heritage and was a donor to the Shrewsbury Library. Reminiscing about her mother at the Red Lion Inn on Monday evening, Nancy Fitzpatrick noted that “she looked great until the end. She often had total strangers come up to her and tell her how beautiful she was. She loved it.”
For much of the past year, Jane Fitzpatrick lived in a suite at the inn, her daughter said, often holding court with friends and visitors on the porch during the summer or by the fireplace in the main lobby in other seasons.
“She occupied the best real estate in the lobby,” said Nancy Fitzpatrick. “People loved seeing her there, and it was a time in her life that I would have loved to see go on for a few more years.
“I look forward to having that perk myself someday,” she added. “We used to joke that when she wasn't alive anymore, we'd have to have someone playing that role in the lobby.”
In her final days, Jane Fitzpatrick was taken back to the family home on Prospect Hill overlooking the town.
“The people who've known her only in the last few years don't realize how fierce she was,” Nancy Fitzpatrick said. “People started to call her a cute old lady and that bothered me, because she was not cute.
People had been a little scared of her, a little intimidated. She was formidable.”
As for her parents' widespread philanthropy, “the more they gave, the more that came back to them, wonderful experiences, close friendships, interesting people,” she added. “I wish more people would realize how personally enriching it is to let go of money. It's not hard to be a Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick, if you have the resources.”
Born on Nov. 18, 1923 in Shrewsbury, Vt., Jane Fitzpatrick was the daughter of Mary Townsend Pratt and Mayflower descendant, Carl Arthur Pratt. Hers was the last of several generations born on the Pratt family farm.
Fitzpatrick attended a one-room schoolhouse for eight years, where she was the sole member of her class for seven of those years. She met her husband at Rutland High School in Vermont. Born in Quincy, John Fitzpatrick moved to Rutland after his father died. The couple's first date came on Jane's 15th birthday.
Jane Fitzpatrick was president of her senior class, and was selected “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Most Attractive” by her classmates. She decided not to attend college, and went into the workplace instead. At 17, she became the department supervisor of an Army Navy supply depot in Hartford, Conn.
The Fitzpatricks married shortly before John Fitzpatrick was to depart for a 20-month tour in Germany with the 2nd Armored Division during World War II. After her husband returned to the United States, the couple lived in Middlebury, Vt., and Brighton as John finished his education. The couple and their two daughters came to Stockbridge when John was named manager of the Pittsfield branch of the Lincoln Stores department store chain.
Fitzpatrick is survived by a sister, Mary Ann Snyder of Largo, Fla., and two daughters, Nancy Jane Fitzpatrick and her husband Lincoln Russell and Ann Fitzpatrick Brown of Stockbridge.
She is also survived by two grandsons, Casey Meade Rothstein-Fitzpatrick and Alexander John Fitzpatrick Brown, three step-grandchildren, and 14 nieces and nephews and their families.
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