Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Fitton devoted to city he loved

Hamilton's behind-the-scenes benefactor dies

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - Richard J. Fitton's name is on the city's downtown arts center, but his heart - and hands - were also involved in many improvements throughout the city he loved.

This sculpture at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts was a gift from Richard J. Fitton, in memory of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Cyrus J. Fitton. Fitton, an arts supporter, died Sunday.
(Dick Swaim photo)
The Hamilton native and former mayor, who died in his sleep at his Ross Township home Sunday afternoon, was remembered Monday as a tireless booster for his Butler County hometown.

"Name the local projects and causes over the last 50 years, and he was there," said Jim Blount, a local historian. "He didn't seek credit and publicity, he just enjoyed seeing things get started and completed."

Fitton, 76, former chairman of the First Financial Bancorp, and its predecessor, the First National Bank of Southwestern Ohio, worked behind the scenes on projects that included the low-level dam, Hamiltonian Hotel, the downtown railroad underpass, Columbia Bridge and the Miami University's Hamilton branch.

"He was involved with so many things that the people of Hamilton and Butler County don't know about," said Butler County Commissioner Greg Jolivette, a former Hamilton mayor and state legislator who considered Fitton a mentor.

Among his legacies is the Fitton Center for Creative Arts, built on the riverfront in 1991 for the city's bicentennial. It was named after Fitton, one of the city's cultural action committee leaders.

"He was not a big art fan, but he knew this was going to be a wonderful thing for the community and the quality of life here, and that meant everything to Dick," said Richard H. Jones, Fitton Center executive director.

Last month, Fitton and his wife, Rebecca, attended the dedication of the new 7-foot grand piano they donated to the center. In December, the Fitton family gave $3.3 million to the Miami campus here for a 7,000-square-foot botanical conservatory.

"If he thought that something was important, he didn't just apply his knowledge and passion, but also committed his finances to it," said Mayor Dan Ryan. "He wanted this to be the best city it could be."

The 1945 Hamilton High School graduate earned a degree in agriculture from Ohio State University in 1950, after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. After two years with Prudential Insurance Co., he was hired in 1952 by the First National Bank and Trust Co., beginning his 45-year career at the company.

Fitton raised cattle and horses for 35 years on his farm. Last Tuesday, he fell from his tractor, though an investigator for the Butler County coroner said the accident didn't appear to have contributed to his death A cause of death had not been determined Monday.

In addition to serving as a City Council member and mayor, he was a former member of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cincinnati, Hamilton/Fairfield Arts Council, Fort Hamilton-Hughes Memorial Hospital board, Butler County Development Council, Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce board and Fitton Center board.

Fitton is survived by his wife, Rebecca; sons James of Hamilton, Samuel of Oxford and Tom of Zionsville, Ind.; and three grandchildren.

A private service will be held Wednesday. A public memorial service will be announced.

Fitton memorials

A public memorial service for philanthropist Richard J. Fitton will be announced after private services Wednesday. The family suggests memorials be directed to one of three Richard J. Fitton Memorial Funds: at Miami University Hamilton Campus, 1601 Peck Blvd., Hamilton, 45011; Fitton Center for the Creative Arts, 101 S. Monument St., Hamilton, 45011; or The Colonial Foundation, 520 Eaton Ave., Hamilton, 45013.



E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com

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