ROCKY MOUNT - Brian Fitch Ph.D. (b. 10/20/44, d. 07/03/20) presently of Rocky Mount, passed away at after a six-year battle with Parkinson's Disease. Born in Hampton Roads, Virginia to a military family, he grew up in Binghamton, New York attended military school in upstate New York and graduated from SUNY Binghamton with a degree in Music. He earned a MA The University of Louisiana and a Ph.D. in Writing and Literature from The University of Lincoln, Nebraska. Survived by his wife, Jenny Brantley, who grew up on a tobacco farm in Middlesex, he considered her family his family so he is also survived by her sister, Lynn Best and her life-partner, Mel Rance, with us every halting step of the since moving home in August 2017. Niece, Rebecca Humphrey and her husband, Dustin, gave Brian so much pleasure by always visiting with their children Cayden and Jaxon; he dearly loved those boys. Also survived by Jenny's mother, Bertie Brantley, his favorite traveling companion. Together, we traveled to Tuscany and Rome, the Badlands of South Dakota, Lake Superior, Beaufort, Kure Beach, and Emerald Isle. He was much loved by Jenny's father, Pete Brantley and her grandmother, Kiva Murray, where he spent rocked on her porch in Samaria and sat at her table eating her sausage and biscuits.
He was a tenured full professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, where he taught Literature and Writing for over 30 years, winning numerous teaching awards. St. Paul Pioneer Press recognized his work with synchronous and asynchronous learning, as students in Wisconsin, New Orleans, South Dakota, Los Angeles, Mexico, and several First Nations' schools in Canada shared readings and real-time conversations.
He spent a year on an Air Force base in Sheyma, Alaska in the Aleutian Islands. He lived for several years in New York City. A classically trained piano player who also knew Latin, he earned his living for several years in bands traveling up and down the East Coast. For over seven years, he lived in Morgan City working in the oil fields of Louisiana, building and testing blow-out preventers. After the blow-out preventers were assembled, he flew in helicopters out to the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico where he was lowered by crane into workboats and then timed jumps onto the rigs. Always careful in his work, he saved countless lives of rig workers since faulty blow-out preventers blew in the yard, not on the rigs. He returned to school at the University of Louisiana, where he met his wife of 34 years, Jenny Brantley. Together they earned their Ph.D.'s from the University of Nebraska. He was a professor with the UW System for over 30 years, retiring when he was 72 years old.
An award-winning, published writer whose work was twice nominated for a Pushcart prize. He was published in North American Review, Prairie Schooner, Sewanee Review, Helsinki Quarterly, Bark and many other magazines. Always ready for an adventure, he and Jenny lived in Helsinki, Finland for over a year and taught at the University of Helsinki. They holidayed with families in summer cottages on islands in Finnish Archipelago and on breaks spent weeks driving through London, England and Wales. After earning their Ph.Ds., they moved to Wisconsin, bought and renovated the famous "lost" Cass Gilbert House. Later they purchased seventeen acres of land in the Mississippi River Valley and designed their own home where they lived with beloved companions, Ivy, a Brittany Spaniel, and Moxie, a cat who found them. He was an accomplished sailor and swimmer (once swimming the Pensacola Bay in Florida) and jumped on every ship leaving the harbor. He taught his wife to be adventurous but not careless, first teaching her balance in a canoe in the alligator and snake infested waters of Louisiana. When Brian was diagnosed with Parkinson's, he immediately read several books on quantum theory, string theory, and physics.
In 2017, he and his wife moved home to Nash County to be with family where he fought Parkinson's Disease with the heart of a warrior. When his wife asked him, "Do you sometimes wonder, Why me? He answered, Why not me?" Every day, he put his feet on the ground and moved forward with strength and few complaints. He traveled to the coast as often as possible, often with Jenny's mother, Bertie Brantley. On a January 2018 trip to Emerald Isle, a New Year's Nor'easter, brought the worst weather the island had seen since 1710. We had to be chipped out of the house, coincidentally by a former Air Force MP who had also lived on Sheyma.
Until a month ago, he was riding his indoor bike for fifteen minutes daily and doing his Parkinson BIG exercises. Before this final trip to the hospital, he asked, "How did we get here [to the end] so quickly?"
Brian spent his life writing, reading, building, and walking for miles. We walked the hills of Tuscany, hiked the Pennines in Wales, steered a canal boat in the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, waded in the Irish Sea, took a train in winter into Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Russia just when it was falling apart, took a boat to Tallinn, Estonia to see boulders set as tank traps against Russia, hiked the mountains of Switzerland and Germany, walked beaches of North Carolina, until he lost his balance, his words, his ability to swallow, and finally his life but never his warrior attitude and his kind, loving spirit, teaching tolerance and compassion to his students by what they read and how he lived. He will be greatly missed.
Condolences directed to Joyner's Funeral Home and Crematory at www.joyners.net.