Richard Swain Fitts

Richard Swain Fitts - Brighton, NY - Rochester Cremation

Richard Swain Fitts, 96, of Brighton NY, died at home on April 3, 2021 after meaningful visits with family and friends near and far. Even after a stroke in 2014 reduced his ability to freely enjoy the many passions of his life, he still displayed his usual humor, and grit and determination to enjoy life at its fullest. Numerous condolences have most often mentioned Dick as a life role model, leader, a weaver of relationships and for generously recognizing and fostering the best in every person. He set a high bar for others to follow.

Born in Foxboro, MA on June 6, 1924, Dick lived most of his adult life in Rochester after receiving a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in MA. He began his career at Eastman Kodak as a Time Study Engineer at its Camera Works. Shortly after, he was drafted into the US Army and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Reserve. With the United States Army decreasing in size, Dick was honorably discharged and returned to his job at Kodak.

In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, as Chair of the United States YMCA Young Adult Council, Dick received a Ford Foundation Grant for Visitation Fellowships to YMCAs in Greece, Egypt, India and Sri Lanka. His travel experience led to hosting Indian students attending the University of Rochester and lifelong international friendships thereafter.

Dick met his first wife, Barbara Judith Vanderburgh, through the YMCA Outing Club where they were very active. They were married in 1953 and had three children, Andrew, Jeffrey and Judith. Sadly, Barbara died much before her time.

In 1977, Dick married Nancy Fouquet Eckerson. Nancy brought two adult children into the family, Dayton and Meg. Together, Dick and Nancy worked on a number of causes: equal rights for gays & lesbians, third party presidential campaigns, and nuclear disarmament. Concerned about a nuclear exchange with the Soviets, they decided to pursue a people-to-people connection and began the long process of establishing Rochester and Novgorod as sister cities. The meaningful connection between these two cities continues to this day.  In fact, an online Russian news magazine recently published a memorial on Dick. <>

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was interest in establishing for-profit businesses in Russia. The Mayor of Novgorod suggested starting a photo business. Dick was retired and the time seemed right to start a new career. Dick and the manager of Genesee-Volkhov Connection (GVCO) had three objectives: provide an example of free enterprise, provide employment for Russians, and make a profit. They were successful in accomplishing the first two most meaningful objectives.

A long-time passion for Dick was his Bristol Hills retreat where he spent countless hours working in the woods keeping trails clear of fallen trees and championing many projects. Unarguably, the most impressive project was a set of 76 cascading steps to the bottom of the gorge. His desire to leave a legacy for his children and grandchildren to enjoy for years to come was realized by virtue of his tireless work ethic. Bristol was, and still is, the focal point for family to gather to enjoy a walk in the woods, or a lazy afternoon on the deck or floating in the pond. And with his love of the outdoors, he also gave many hours of service to developing and maintaining the sprawling grounds surrounding the First Unitarian Church of Rochester that include The Memorial Garden. A stone wall engraving in the Memorial Garden was a favorite of his: “To live in hearts that love is not to die.” (Thomas Campbell)

Nancy Eckerson Fitts died on March 4, 2019, from Alzheimer’s. Dick is survived by his partner Nancy Warren Oliver of Rochester, his four children: Andrew Fitts (Prairie Fitts Bishop) of Kauai, HI, Dayton Eckerson (Darlene Como) of Silver Spring, MD, Jeffrey Fitts (Sarah Fitts-Romig) of Rochester, and Judi Fitts (David Murphy) of Boston, MA, and his five grandchildren: Henry Fitts (Alana Biltucci Fitts), Peter Fitts (Emma Daitz), Charlotte Fitts-Sprague (Brad Zapenas), Maggie Eckerson, and Isaac Fitts-Sprague. Meg Eckerson was deceased in 2001.

Services will be held at the First Unitarian Church of Rochester on July 31, 2021 at 1:30 PM. While the family would welcome your presence, there will also be an option to attend remotely through Zoom using this link: To join the service over the phone, guests may call (646) 876-9923 and enter meeting ID 5852719070.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the “Richard & Nancy Fitts Fund for Social Justice”, First Unitarian Church of Rochester, 220 S. Winton Rd,  Rochester, NY 14610.

The following is a poem Dick requested be shared upon his passing:

Celebrate the Interval

Life is a brief interval between birth and death.

It is composed of a few notes between Prelude and Postlude;

It is a drama quickly played between the rising and falling of a curtain.


What shall we do with that interval of time?

What combination of notes shall we play?

What thespian mask shall we wear?


The brevity of days is full of pain;

Discordant notes reverberate in the soul;

The ending of the play is ever in doubt.


Yet the brevity can be rich with joy;

A simple tune caresses our ears;

The play produces laughter from time to time.


Why, then, are we so careless with time?

Why do we not sound the music of our hearts?

Why do we not feel the stage beneath our feet?


Is it not time to enjoy the interval?

Is it not time to play our own melody?

Is it not time for us to act our part?


Life is a brief interval between birth and death.

May we celebrate the interval with joy.

May we sing the song belonging to us.

May we act as though our very life depends upon it.


It does.

– Rev. Richard Gilbert

5 Condolences

  1. Paul Caccamise, president, Linkages on April 11, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    Linkages, the organization that Dick and his wife, Nancy, established in the 1980’s to promote friendship with Russia, resulted in a sister city agreement in 1990. For over 30 years his wisdom and foresight has brought harmonious relations between our two cities and innumerable projects and relationships that have enriched the civic life of both cities. We will be ever grateful for his passion for social justice that gave rise to what one of our Interpreters declared one of the most active sister city organizations in the nation. Dick was wise, generous and always a gentleman. Linkages offers the condolences of its Board and members to his extended family.

  2. William A Johnson Jr., 64th Mayor of Rochester (1994-2005) on April 12, 2021 at 5:05 pm

    My deepest condolences are extended to the family of Richard Fitts. During my tenure, I became heavily engaged with ISCOR, Rochester’s expansive and highly interactive Sister Cities’ program. Some of the more active citizens I interacted with were highly involved with their respective international cities. None took more pride in their work than Dick and Nancy Fitts, the co-founders and the force behind Velikiy Novgorod in Russia. This was perhaps the most entrepreneurial of these international community relationships. I was privileged to join a Fitts-led delegation to visit Novgorod, and I was able to see firsthand the many deep relationships which had been created and sustained through patience, pride and diligent determination. Dick was a generous and caring man, whose mind seemed to be always focused on seeing the good in people and finding ways to convert those good feelings into progressive actions. He and Nancy were passionate about social justice, equity and inclusion long before these causes were popularized. May his gentle, caring and compassionate soul rest in eternal peace.

  3. Joseph F. Gersitz on April 13, 2021 at 9:07 am

    Joseph F. Gersitz, Past President of Linkages of Rochester, My sympathy and love go out to every one who has known and loved Richard Fitts. Dick Fitts and wife Nancy were engaged in world peace and from their interest and passions flowed their organizing successfully a two day conference on the Soviet Union in the mid 1980’s . Dick and Nancy were globally concerned and locally active. They joined a country-wide effort to match USA cities with those of the Soviet Union not by targeting ICBMs but with peace and friendship.

    Hence when the wall came down in 1990 Dick and Nancy organized the first group trip to Veliky Novgorod. They encouraged a project, sending 13 containers of humanitarian aid beginning in 1991 and lasting until 2006. Dick and Nancy whole heartedly promoted an annual program led by a New York State or Rochester foreign language teacher to lead an intense seminar each year. Their support enabled the interchange of Novgorod and Rochester area professionals in various fields of common interest, such as child protection, prevention of substance abuse, elder care and women’s issues.

  4. David Gifford on April 14, 2021 at 5:39 pm

    To Dayton Eckerson. We are so very sorry to learn of the many losses in your life. May memories of good and happy times bring you comfort each day. Dave Gifford

  5. Beth Jorgensen on April 18, 2021 at 8:53 pm

    I have wonderful memories of serving on the First Unitarian Society’s refugee resettlement committee with Dick and Nancy Fitts when we resettled a family from Kosovo over two decades ago. Dick brought so many skills and his generous, optimistic personality to all of our work together and he made a lasting difference in the life of the family. It was a pleasure to get to know him, and I know that there are people all over the world who will miss his presence in their lives.

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