Preservationist Deborah Fitts Dies At 63; Was Longtime Journalist & CWN Editor
By Kathryn Jorgensen
August 2008 Civil War News
Deborah Whittier Fitts of Richmond, Mass., wife of Clark B. Hall and longtime preservationist and journalist, died of breast cancer on July 17. She was 63. She was assistant editor and a reporter for Civil War News for almost 20 years.
Fitts covered the big Civil War preservation battles that made national headlines, such as the Disney theme park near Manassas, as well hundreds of smaller stories. Many of those reports are online and will continue to inform readers for years to come.
As the many historians, park officials and preservation leaders Fitts interviewed over the years can attest, she was professional, thorough and fair.
One of them e-mailed her last fall, “What I have noticed most about your skill is your ability to listen with a loud intensity. This comes through clearly in your writing.” After counting her bylines in an issue he joked, “Perhaps Ms. Jorgensen should consider renaming the publication “Travels With Deborah Through Hallowed Ground.”
Civil War Preservation Trust President James Lighthizer said, “I have the highest respect, not just for her journalistic professionalism and ability, but also for her as a human being.
She was unfailingly fair and unbiased in her work, but still managed to let her passion for Civil War history and preservation come across in her writing.”
He said, “Hands down, Deborah was the best and most important journalist on Civil War issues, especially preservation. The entire Civil War community is much the poorer for her passing.”
Some of that passion came from a childhood visit to Gettysburg Battlefield and her father’s admiration for the eloquence of the Virginia Memorial: “Virginia to her sons at Gettysburg.” She toured the battlefield many times and always visited the monument. She urged friends to take their children to battlefields.
Deborah Fitts was a newspaper reporter in 1989 when she discovered the Civil War News and offered her services as a contributor. Her first major assignment was the 125th Battle of the Wilderness reenactment.
She joined publishers Kay and Pete Jorgensen for the 1989 Boston opening of “Glory” and got to know them even better in April 1990 when the three of them and two cats camped out in a trailer in the mud at Sayler’s Creek for the 125th anniversary events there and at Appomattox Court House.
That was the month that Fitts met board member Clark “Bud” Hall at an Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites event. Two months later she interviewed him about Brandy Station, where a preservation battle was being waged.
They were together from 1994 on and were married on May 5, 2001, in a small ceremony at the Doubleday Inn in Gettysburg, with Chief Justice Frank Williams of the Rhode Island Supreme Court officiating. Their honeymoon was a fall hiking trip in New Zealand.
Hall composed the wedding announcement published in Civil War News. It read, in part:
“The bride is the great-granddaughter of Pvt. Henry Fitts of the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry who was wounded and captured at Gaines’ Mill. The bridegroom is the great-grandson of Sgt. Charles Hall, 13th Mississippi Infantry, who was wounded and captured at Gettysburg.
“The bridegroom notes that this bi-sectional marriage embodies both the true spirit of national reconciliation and the good sense of Southern gentlemen to seek out pretty, classy ladies wherever they may be found.”
During the four years since she was diagnosed with cancer, Fitts never faltered in her love for her work on behalf of historic preservation, for family and friends, and for Northern Virginia, the family farm in Connecticut and the outdoors.
In her last e-mail to the CWN office the week before she died Fitts wrote about an elderly motorist who stopped her and her husband while they were walking on a country road, to ask if they had seen any “black hats.”
"Lost a black cat?" Fitts asked, then was amused to learn he was searching for black raspberries.
She enjoyed accounts of turkeys, deer, woodchucks and foxes outside the Vermont office and traded observations about plants and birds.
Fitts was born on July 6, 1945, in Boston, to Cornelia H. Fitts and the late Dudley Fitts, a teacher at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., where she was raised. She graduated magna cum laude from Abbot Academy and from Smith College in 1967.
After teaching first grade for nine years at The Pike School in Andover, she served for more than a decade as the North Stonington, Conn., correspondent for the Westerly (R.I.) Sun.
In 1992, Fitts was named director of communications for the Civil War Trust in Washington, D.C. Two years later she joined the staff of the Loudoun Times-Mirror in Leesburg, Va.
She wrote for many other publications and joined the staff of the Richmond (Mass.) Record in 2005. Her writing won awards in Rhode Island and Virginia.
She was also a trustee of The Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection in Providence, R.I. Among the threatened land she helped preserve was her own family farm, Oldhaven, in North Stonington, Conn.
Besides her husband and mother, survivors include her brother, Daniel Hewitt Fitts of Haverhill, Mass., cousins, two nephews, a niece and two stepchildren.
A private memorial service will be held. Memorial donations may be made to The Nature Conservancy, Attn: Treasury (Web/Support) 4245 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 100, Arlington, VA 22203.