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This tribute to long-time Dublin resident and community leader James Fritts was written by his good friend, community leader and former publisher of the Dublin Citizen, Karen Wright.
James Fritts was a force of nature – and all the degrees of intensity that implies.
He was a thunderstorm, a hail storm, a wind storm, at least as often as he was a clear-to-partly-cloudy spring day. When I first knew him, the storms probably outnumbered the sunshine. But 30 years saw his hair turn grey and his management style soften. Thankfully, time reduced that icy stare when the only thing on his face that moved was one eyebrow which telegraphed disapproval. Even the toughest of us would shrink under that raised eyebrow.
The tributes which are flowing today about James are coming from people like me who called him boss. I was never on James’s payroll but we worked side by side in many local organizations including, for the past 15 years, economic development. For the most part, the organizations which benefitted from his leadership developed a shadow philosophy much like his own. That came from the strength of his personality. Sometimes he was tough as nails and controlled with a sledge hammer. More likely he controlled through subtle manipulation – the kind that results in good outcomes with most people believing they had come to those same conclusions independently. That management style COULD have gone either way. But Dublin can be very grateful that our community and his employees were always ALWAYS at the heart of his decision-making.
But even as much as he loved his organizations, such as the EDC, let there be no doubt that James Fritts was a fireman. On a recent scorching day when thermometers were registering 110 degrees, his comment to me was concern for “his guys.” Grass fires were breaking out all over the county and he made sure the trucks were fully stocked with ice and water, but he was worried. He would have gone literally into the very belly of the fire to protect “his guys.” He would have died for them. They know that.
He had a love of the land that only a farmer’s son understands. He transformed rough land into beautiful landscapes and then shared them because he said they were gifts from God. And he would hate for me to reveal how much he was a sucker for animals. I recently saw him at the grocery store with a bag of kitten food and I laughed. He was quick to say a kitten had come to his house, lest I think he had gone in search of one. A few days later, I asked how the kitten was doing and he replied, “It vanished after stealing my heart.”
This was one tough guy in so many ways. But he was a Cadbury egg – crusty on the outside and gooey in the middle.
It is hard to believe today that the hurt in our hearts will lessen or that his leadership shoes can be filled by anyone else. But because of James’s leadership, those shoes CAN be filled. He taught us by example how to do it and he made us understand that the first step in leadership is passion.
James Fritts was a storm, followed by a rainbow. And he left us a pot of gold.
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