Country Curtains founder, John Hitchcock Fitzpatrick, passes
Home Textiles Today Staff -- Home Textiles Today, 7/27/2011 2:59:41 PM
Stockbridge, Mass. -- John Hitchcock Fitzpatrick, founder with wife Jane of Country Curtains in 1956, passed away peacefully at his home in the Berkshires on July 23.
He was 88.
"Always called Jack," Country Curitans noted, Fitzpatrick was born on April 5, 1923, in Quincy, Mass., to Clarence E. and Clara Hitchcock Fitzpatrick. His father was a successful department store owner who died when Jack was just one year old.
After that, his mother moved with her children, Jack and his older sister, Joanne, to Rome, Italy, where she studied singing for four years, making her debut as Azucena in Il Trovadore. Their summers were spent in Switzerland, which started Fitzpatrick's lifelong love of all things Swiss. On returning to her home state of Vermont, his mother married Lawrence Jones, a Rutland lawyer who later became Attorney General of Vermont.
Fitzpatrick met his future wife and business partner, Jane Hayes Pratt, while they were attending Rutland High School. Their first date was on Jane's 15th birthday.
Fitzpatrick completed high school at The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. After one year at Williams College, he enlisted in the Army. He and Jane were married on September 7, 1944, at The Little Church Around the Corner in New York City. It would be the second of three 12-hour leaves before he shipped to Germany, where he spent three years in the 102nd Infantry Division. In 1945, Fitzpatrick was awarded a Bronze Star.
After the war, Fitzpatrick continued his education at Middlebury College. The couple bought a farm in nearby Shoreham, where they took in boarders while he studied law at Boston University. He earned his degree in 1951.
He did not pass the Vermont bar exam, and later called the incident, "[The] best thing that ever happened to me."
Instead, he turned to the dry goods business, following his late father's footsteps.
He began his career at Quincy-based Lincoln Stores with headquarters in his father's building. After stints in Syracuse, New Bedford, Quincy, Fitchburg and Nashua, Fitzpatrick was transferred to Pittsfield. He and Jane sold their farm in Vermont in order to afford a large house on Main Street in Stockbridge.
The extra space the new home afforded them was needed for a fledgling business they had started in 1956 while living in Whitman, Mass. Fitzpatrick had been intrigued by the mail-order business model, and had observed that the curtain department was one of the Lincoln Store's most successful profit centers.
When the chain's owners were not interested in pursuing his mail-order idea, Fitzpatrick and his wife decided to try their hand at it and founded Country Curtains. It became the country's first specialty mail-order curtain company.
He wrote the copy while his wife drew the artwork, and in April 1956 their first ad appeared in the Boston Sunday Herald.
Country Curtains soon outgrew the Fitzpatrick home and relocated to the Curtain Shed, a former carriage barn on the corner of Pine and Shamrock Streets in Stockbridge. By 1960, Fitzpatrick was able to resign from his position at Lincoln's.
Fitzpatrick took his family to Europe for a year, leaving Country Curtains in the trusted hands of Jane's sister, Zoa Campetti. While abroad, they explored many countries and spent some time in Switzerland, where the couple's two daughters attended school.
In 1968, with the Curtain Shed "bursting at the seams," they purchased The Red Lion Inn, sparing it from the threat of demolition. After renovations, the inn opened for year-round business in May 1969. Country Curtains was ensconced in the back part of the former dining room. Just three years later, a two-story addition to house the fast-growing company was constructed on the structure's flat kitchen roof.
A love of restoring old buildings, matched with a yen to try setting up his own curtain factory, prompted Fitzpatrick in 1974 to purchase the former machine shop in Housatonic's Monument Mills complex. In 1976, Housatonic Curtain Company began sewing curtains and related textile products exclusively for Country Curtains.
"Politics was woven through all these years," Country Curtains said. "Always an activist and participant in community affairs, Jack was a diehard Republican and a passionate advocate for two-party government in Boston." After an unsuccessful run against State Senator Andrea Nuciforo in 1972, he won a special election the following year after Nuciforo became a judge. He served the First District from 1973 to 1980. He was named to the Senate Ways and Means Committee in 1979. Other committee appointments included Commerce and Labor, Natural Resources, and Public Service and Social Welfare. In 1974, he was chosen as one of four Legislators of the Year by the Massachusetts League of Cities and Towns. Fitzpatrick's many lasting friendships from his Senate years crossed both sides of the aisle. He was especially proud of grandson Alexander's love of politics and debating.
In addition to his wife of nearly 67 years and his two daughters, Nancy and Ann, Fitzpatrick is survived by two grandsons. He was a powerful and inspiring influence on Nancy's son, Casey M. Rothstein-Fitzpatrick, and Ann's son, Alexander John F. Brown. He was also an important figure in the lives of Nancy's three stepchildren, Sarah Eustis, Michael Rothstein, Morgan Russell, and her husband, Lincoln Russell. He was the beloved patriarch of a large extended family including many nieces and nephews.
The burial will be private. The family will receive friends at The Red Lion Inn Wednesday, July 27, from 4 to 7 p.m.
Plans for the memorial service will be announced shortly.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Trustees of Reservations, The Berkshire Theatre Festival, the Boston Symphony Orchestra or The Norman Rockwell Museum.