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In Memoriam: Jane P. Fitzpatrick of the Red Lion Inn

Jane Pratt Fitzpatrick was the undisputed queen of the Berkshires, a regal woman with a common touch. When she passed away at age 89 on November 9, she left behind an unparalleled and indelible legacy. As Brooke Astor was to New York City, Jane Fitzpatrick was to the Berkshires, a grande dame whose philanthropy was personal, heartfelt, and ubiquitous. As the co-founder of Country Curtains with her late husband, Jack (a.k.a. “The Senator”), who resuscitated the Red Lion Inn when they bought it in 1968, Mrs. Fitz probably did more than anyone to make the Berkshires a world-renown tourist destination.

As one of the visionaries who founded the Norman Rockwell Museum more than forty years ago, she understood not only Rockwell’s extraordinary contribution to American culture but also the importance of the small town values he depicted in his paintings, which she perpetuated with her good works. Known for her impeccable taste and keen sense of humor, her support for the arts in the Berkshires is evident on plaques throughout the county—from the Berkshire Theatre Group and MASS MoCA to Hancock Shaker Village and the Norman Rockwell Museum. Her spirit lives on in her dynamic daughters, Nancy Fitzpatrick, who owns the Red Lion, and Ann Brown Fitzpatrick, who owns Blantyre. Rural Intelligence asked friends, relatives, and colleagues to share their memories of this remarkable woman.—Dan Shaw

 height=Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum
Jane Fitzpatrick passed away one day after the 35th anniverary of Norman Rockwell’s death in 1978. That is when I realized that I had first met Jane nearly 35 years ago when she was a founding trustee of the early Norman Rockwell Museum, The Old Corner House. I was struck that she must have been just the age I am now and I thought what a tremendous amount of work and good can be done in the world over 35 years. Jane was an inspiration and mentor to me. I learned so much from Jane—that details matter, saying “thank you” matters, being generous matters, and being nice matters. She was fond of saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” She also liked to say when you thanked her for a gift to help the Museum, “It is easy to write the check. You are doing the hard work.”

She and all her family and community of employees worked hard to raise the resources they gave away so generously throughout the entire community. Jane was strong, determined, and a woman of conviction. I know she influenced my leadership. Jane and Jack were a true partnership. They helped everyone. And without their generosity, Norman Rockwell Museum would not be the beautiful place it is today. I can’t but feel happy that she led such a beautiful, generous life, and has passed her zest for living on to her daughters and grandchildren. I feel blessed that our life paths crossed. These have been special years in Stockbridge. An era draws to a close and I shall miss her greatly. Now it is each of our responsibility to carry forward Jane’s generosity of spirit and joy.

 height=Sarah E. Eustis, director of business development for The Red Lion Inn
I have know Jane F. for 40 years, when, as a child, she welcomed me and my brother into her magical life. As a housekeeper and a waitress at the Red Lion in my teens, I was always aware of her presence and stood up straighter as a result. She was somewhat terrifying as she inspected our uniforms and grooming to be sure we were fit to represent the Inn—I got no special treatment!

As a grandmother she was also slightly intimidating, but so generous, and she always had something festive going on. She felt strongly that things should be done properly and made sure I knew how she felt about table settings, clean sinks, neat hair, hard work, clean fingernails, hospital corners… you get the idea. Even though I was her “step-grandchild,” she treated me like her own, showing up at every lacrosse game, every graduation, every birthday party, every baptism of every child, every wedding event as if it were her first priority. She was fully engaged and was really there for us.

As her health declined in recent years, her powerful exterior softened a bit and a more philosophical and gentle Jane emerged. We talked about life, about love, and all kinds of things when we would see each other; it was often extremely humorous. In the last year of working full time at the Inn and enjoying her radiant presence in the lobby as she chatted with guests, I got to know her even better. I feel proud to be a steward of that amazing place and feel a huge responsibility to keep it up to her standards as Nancy has done for more than two decades.

Annie Selke, founder and CEO of Pine Cone Hill
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Mrs. Fitz. I knew and appreciated her in so many different roles. Her personality and presence was simply a part of growing up in Stockbridge and I am truly grateful for it. Jane Fitzpatrick set an awe-inspiring example of what an individual with passion, commitment, and style can accomplish in a lifetime. Her vision changed the face of the Berkshires. Her attention to detail benefited not only everyone who ever worked for her and with her, but every guest that has ever slept or dined at The Red Lion. Her candor, forthright nature, and sometimes stunning frankness was disarmingly refreshing. She has always been and will continue to be an inspiration to me. Her legacy informs my path.

 height=Brian Alberg, executive chef of the Red Lion Inn
Mrs. Fitz was a force of inspiration for me and others who knew her, not only holding high standards and maintaining a gracious hospitable attitude towards our guests, but also instilling the importance of community support and involvement. She built the platform on which we stand as we continue to welcome people through our doors and desire to make the lives of the people around us better through service.

Hilary Somers Deely, founder, Made in the Berkshires Festival
I joined the Berkshire Theatre Festival board in 1990, when Jane Fitzpatrick was in her prime as chairman. I saw Jane as a wise, kind, and generous mentor, whom I really looked up to. I put together winter theatre bus trips for the board to attend regional productions, so I spent quite a bit of time chatting with Jane, as she liked to sit in the front of the bus. She gave me life tips, such as “Never be on more than two boards at a time, because you won’t give your best” and “I won’t last forever, so we need the next generation to keep working hard!” along with many other tips, including a few to the bus driver on good routes to take to see the countryside!

Jane also showed me how to run an organization. Her advice: “It should last no longer than an hour and always have hot coffee and donuts, to make everyone comfortable.” Jane took a real interest in mentoring me, inspiring me, and encouraging me, which has kept me engaged to give my all to an organization that she (and I) really loved. Her point was simple: Treat your volunteers with respect, warmth, and discipline and they will give you their best.

height= Joe Thompson, director of MASS MoCA
Business leaders in Berkshire County have recently begun to fret about our region’s population decline. Jane was way ahead of the curve, but didn’t express herself abstractly through charts and graphs. I’ll never forget a meeting with Jane and Jack – in 1995 or so – during which Jennifer and I were rattling our MASS MoCA tin cup over a pleasant lunch at the Red Lion. After our pitch, we moved on to polite small talk over dessert, until Jane suddenly looked up and fixed me with those unforgettable eyes of hers and said, “Joe, you know, we really need more families here in the Berkshires, so when are you and Jennifer going to have children?” It wasn’t so much question, as decree. Jack gruffed in: “You might as well just get started: family, friends and employees—the idea is you want to make sure you have enough of all of ‘em.” 

Ellen Spear, president of the Heritage Museums & Gardens and former CEO of Hancock Shaker Village
Jane epitomized the warm heart of the Berkshires. She was keenly interested in everything that made the place special. I remember sitting on the porch of the Red Lion with her, hearing her many stories and catching up on what was going on at Hancock Shaker Village. Her interest, enthusiasm, and command of detail as well as the big picture made for lively discussion. She was truly a great lady and a role model.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 11/11/13 at 02:06 PM • Permalink