“Everyone who ever met him defined him as a gentleman, and that never changed,” shares Nancy Willett of New Bern, North Carolina. Hank, Nancy’s husband, had a presence about him that one just recognized. Horace Bunnie Fitchett, Jr. was known to all as ‘Hank’ or ‘PopPop’ by his eight grandchildren.
Born in Urbana, Virginia in 1929, Hank lived his early years absorbed in activities that revolved around the waterways of the river and the Chesapeake Bay. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1946. In 1949 on the G.I. Bill Hank was the first in his family to attend college and graduated at the top of his class from Virginia Tech having served as the Captain of the Cadet Corp. After graduating college Hank entered the U.S. Army and served until 1957. Upon completion in his duties with the Army, Hank was hired by the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company in Washington, DC. Quickly moving up the ranks, Hank became the director of government communications for the White House, the Capitol, the Supreme Court and the Library of Congress. “Not only was it an important job, it was interesting work,” notes Nancy. With top security clearance, Hank worked during the Nixon and Carter administrations, most notably where he identified when calls were being taped illegally and had legal action taken against White House (Nixon-Watergate). Other exciting stories included the inner workings of the White House, the landing on the moon, and the JFJ inaugural events.
In 1982 the Bell System was broken up into regions as a result of an anti-trust lawsuit. Consequently, the Department of Defense and National Security Agency were concerned that one person would no longer be overseeing their communications. Therefore, they hired Hank to take on that role of coordinating the government needs until he retired in 1989.
In 1990, Nancy and Hank moved to New Bern. They were both retired and became very involved with their community. In addition to the Historical Society and assisting in the establishment of the Black History Museum, Hank became very involved with the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort, NC. “He went to the Museum every week,” offers Nancy. “There was a group of 17 guys of varied professional backgrounds such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants, and they built really big boats.”
In 2007, Nancy noticed something was changing in Hank. His once very self -confident and self -assured demeanor was waning. She also noticed his loss of presence and decisiveness. “That’s when I decided I wanted to capture every memory he had.” Nancy and Hank were both very involved in the community, so they made arrangements to meet for lunch regularly. “I’d ask him questions and make notes, and this culmination of stories just sort of evolved. He would talk and I would delve into stories that I really didn’t know all the details about. Then I would come home and write it all out.” By 2008, Nancy had lots of tidbits of information, but none of them were in chronological order. “I told Hank that I was going to put together a book about him and needed him to read it as I wrote it to make sure it was accurate and he was still capable of doing that.” The completed project, “The Memories of My Life,” was born. Its cover designed by Nancy’s son who is a geologist and combined the maps of the different places in which Hank lived during in lifetime.
Hank’s condition continued to deteriorate and Nancy joined the New Bern area’s Alzheimer’s caregiver support group in 2014. At the same time, one of Hank’s daughters who was living in Baltimore formed a Walk to End Alzheimer’s team, ‘Hank’s Bunnies,’ complete with rabbit ears, and a top hat. Nancy and two of her friends also walked. The following year, Nancy took over as facilitator for the caregiver support group as the two women who had previously served in those roles had done so for a number of years and were ready to step down. Already a long-time volunteer at the Carolina East Hospital, Nancy’s facilitator role with the Alzheimer’s support group enabled her to expand her network with area agency on aging and heighten the overall awareness of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“I decided I wanted to do the Walk in New Bern in 2015 to honor Hank,” shares Nancy. “I – prepared a note that remind them who Hank was and what he had done for the community – I put it in each of the neighborhood mailboxes ask if donate and walk with us – collected $1,700 – a group of friends and family walked with us on Hank’s Bunnies.
Sadly Hank passed away in 2017; however, Nancy remains the facilitator for the area Alzheimer’s caregiver support group and is active with Walk to End Alzheimer’s – New Bern which is taking place on October 25. “Walk is an important event in that it brings the reality and seriousness of the need to donate. We need to continue to work hard to develop a cure for our children and our grandchildren.”
LIKE NANCY WE ALL HAVE A REASON FOR WE ARE FIGHTING FOR A WORLD WITHOUT ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE. Start your own team or join an existing team for one of our nineteen North Carolina Walk to End Alzheimer’s events:
The world may look a little different right now, but one thing hasn’t changed: our commitment to ending Alzheimer’s. This year, Walk to End Alzheimer’s® is everywhere — on every sidewalk, track and trail. Your health and safety are our top priorities. We won’t have a large in-person gathering — instead, we invite you to walk in small teams of friends and family while others in your community do the same. Because we are all still walking and fundraising for the same thing: a world without Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.
When you participate in the Alzheimer’s Association Walk to End Alzheimer’s®, you’re part of a community that cares — and that community, which starts in your backyard and stretches across the country, has never needed us more. With the dollars we raise, the Alzheimer’s Association® can provide care and support during these uncertain times while advancing critical research toward methods of treatment and prevention.
Register today at alz.org/walk and join the movement.
2020 WALK DATES
Alamance County – 9.26.20
Asheville – 10.10.20
Charlotte – 10.17.20
Fayetteville – 10.31.20
Gaston/Cleveland/Lincoln – 9.12.20
Guilford County – 10.17.20
Henderson County – 9.26.20
Hickory – 10.24.20
Iredell County – 10.10.20
Jacksonville – 10.17.20
Moore County – 9.26.20
Mount Airy – 9.12.20
New Bern – 10.25.20
North Wilkesboro – 10.10.20
Robeson County – 10.24.20
Rowan-Cabarrus – 10.24.20
Triangle (Raleigh-Durham) – 10.10.20
Wilmington – 11.7.20
Winston-Salem – 10.3.20