STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. - Jane Pratt Fitzpatrick, founder of Country Curtains and long-time owner of The Red Lion Inn, died peacefully at her home on Prospect Hill in Stockbridge, on November 9, 2013, ten days short of her 90th birthday.
She was born November 18, 1923, in Shrewsbury, Vermont, 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, a heritage that resonated proudly throughout her life.
She attended a one-room schoolhouse for eight years and was the sole member of her class for seven of those years. Jane flourished at Rutland High School, where she met her future husband, John H. Fitzpatrick. Their first date was on her 15th birthday.
Her competence and leadership abilities were evident early. She was the president of her senior class and at graduation she was elected "Most Likely to Succeed," as well as "Most Attractive."
She opted not to go to college and plunged into the workplace. Supporting herself from the age of 17, she soon became department supervisor of an Army Navy supply depot in Hartford, Connecticut.
She and Jack Fitzpatrick were married September 7, 1944, at the Little Church Around the Corner in New York City. Shortly after, Jack departed for a 20-month tour in Germany with the 102nd Infantry Division. After his return, they lived in Middlebury, Vermont, and Brighton, Massachusetts, as Jack completed his education. Four moves later, the couple and their two daughters settled in Stockbridge, when Jack became manager of the Lincoln Stores in Pittsfield.
They moved into a large house on Main Street in November 1957, bringing with them their fledging home business, Country Curtains. Started two years prior in Whitman, MA, Jane handled every aspect of the mail order business, from opening the mail to wrapping packages and drawing ad illustrations. In Stockbridge, the tiny enterprise moved out of Jane's dining room into its own one-room quarters.
Soon after their arrival, the couple threw themselves into town activities and started a ski program for school children. In 1960, leaving a growing Country Curtains in the hands of Jane's sister, Zoa, the family went to Europe for a year. While their daughters were in school in Switzerland, Jane and Jack criss-crossed the continent, giving Jane lots of ideas for curtains as well as hotel guest experiences that she would later put to good use. Back in the Berkshires, the robust growth of Country Curtains enabled them to pursue their business full-time.
In late 1968, they purchased the shuttered, seasonal Red Lion Inn, opening its doors year-round and making it the new home of Country Curtains. In 1980, they purchased Blantyre in Lenox, and transformed the former Berkshire cottage into an intimate country house resort that is on most lists of top lodging properties in the U.S. Jane's eye for detail, her quest for excellence and her intuitive leadership style inspired admiration and respect. A formidable boss, "Mrs. Fitz" (as she was known to her employees) was as generous as she was demanding.
Jane became very active with local arts organizations in the 1970s and beyond. She was determined to save the struggling Berkshire Theatre Festival. Her passion and grit were instrumental in making that happen. She was the BTF board chair for 22 years, and until her death, topped its masthead as honorary chair. She began a long tenure with Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony as Overseer, Trustee and Life Trustee. She served on the Buildings and Grounds Committee during the planning and construction of Ozawa Hall, and formed a close friendship with Seiji Ozawa, who called her mama-san.
The Norman Rockwell Museum counts Fitzpatrick as one of its founding board members and lead donors. She and Jack were not only friends of Norman Rockwell but models and later, collectors.
The Fitzpatrick name can be found on walls from the Berkshire Botanical Garden to Berkshire Country Day School, The Colonial Theatre and MASS MoCA, to name a few. Other boards she served include the Berkshire Natural Resources Council and the Austen Riggs Center. Through the High Meadow Foundation, their businesses and personally, Jane and Jack made leadership philanthropic investments in the Berkshires' cultural life.
The Fitzpatricks loved to travel. Jane and her sisters, Zoa and Mary Ann, took an annual bus tour for many years. She and Jack enjoyed repeated trips to Europe, several on tour with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Later, Lismore in Ireland became a cherished destination. While most of her time was occupied by business and community endeavors, Jane loved to shop for antiques and was a welcome regular at Berkshire auctions. She was also an avid reader, and had been looking forward to being Honorary Chair of the Stockbridge Library's upcoming capital campaign.
She was awarded four honorary doctorates, from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, North Adams State College (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), American International College and Westfield State College. Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick were leaders in Republican politics. Jane was a force in Jack's campaigns for Massachusetts State Senator. It has been said that when Jack decided to run, Jane decided to win. And he did, serving the First District in the State Senate from 1973 to 1980. They enjoyed attending several White House receptions for Republican donors.
Mrs. 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 Chair 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. In August 2010, Stockbridge celebrated Jane and Jack Fitzpatrick Day and dedicated the green next to The Red Lion Inn in their honor. She remained Chairman of Country Curtains until her death, taking great pride in its successful catalog, website and 26 stores.
In spite of declining health, she remained full of sparkle and joie de vivre. She was often seen at The Red Lion Inn, where she enjoyed chatting with guests, friends and neighbors. With her snow-white hair, striking blue eyes and pink sweaters, it was not unusual for a total stranger to be struck by her beauty - and tell her. In recent years she became known for an upbeat toast of unknown origin:Here's to it and to it again,
If you ever get to it to do it and don't do it,
You'll never get to it to do it again.Her husband of 66 years died on July 23, 2011. She leaves behind an adoring and grateful family: her sister, Mary Ann Snyder of Largo FL, two daughters, Nancy Jane Fitzpatrick (and husband Lincoln Russell) and Ann Fitzpatrick Brown, both of Stockbridge; two grandsons, Casey Meade Rothstein-Fitzpatrick and Alexander John Fitzpatrick Brown, and three step-grandchildren, Sarah Elsom Eustis (husband Timothy and sons, Henry and Frederick), Michael O'Shea Rothstein and Morgan Harpin Russell. Aunt Jane loved and was loved by her 14 nieces and nephews and their families. She was preceded in death by her brother, Carl A. Pratt Jr. and her sister, Zoa Pratt Campetti.
Burial will be private for the immediate family. The memorial service will take place on November 18, her 90th birthday, at 11 a.m. at The First Congregational Church in Stockbridge. A reception will follow the service at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Stockbridge Library, P.O. Box 119, or The First Congregational Church, Box 825, Stockbridge MA 01262.
Published in Rutland Herald on Nov. 14, 2013.