Southwestern archaeologist Karl Laumbach was a longtime friend and colleague of John Fitch, who recently passed away. Karl has shared with us his special tribute to John Fitch's friendship and his achievements as an avocational archaeologist. Please scroll below to read Karl's remembrance of John Fitch's interesting and productive life:
John Massey Fitch
February 1, 1940 – August 21, 2023
John Massey Fitch passed away on August 21, 2023, at the age of 83. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on February 1, 1940, John grew up in El Paso, Texas. His father, Massey Lee Fitch, served with the U.S. Immigration Service. His mother, Elizabeth Anne (Harrison) Fitch was a teacher for the elementary schools of the Ysleta Independent School District. John began his life-long fascination with archaeology when he found his ﬁrst pottery sherds while exploring the desert with his father.
John enjoyed his school years and particularly remembered his 7th grade teacher’s axiom, “Well begun is half done.” John did nothing by half measures. He was always “all in” on anything he committed to.
Excelling in writing during his high school years, he won the award for the best essay in the State of Texas his senior year. Traveling to Austin to receive his prize, he fondly remembered making the trip with Dr. Charles Leland Sonnichsen, a prolific author of books on the history and folklore of the American Southwest.
Following high school he entered Texas Western University (now the University of Texas at El Paso). He graduated with a Bachelors degree in Journalism. Upon graduation, John began the two years of service in the U.S. Army required by his commitment to the ROTC program at Texas Western. He was assigned to an Army Intelligence Division as a 2nd Lieutenant, where he served as an instructor in camera technique.
Completing his commitment to the U.S. Army, John returned to El Paso where he took a job as copy editor for the El Paso Herald Post. It was while he was so employed that he saw an advertisement from the Central Intelligence Agency. He applied and was accepted. His years with the CIA are cloaked in mystery, as one might imagine. We know that for at least two years John served as a liaison for oﬃcial guests to the Space Command Center in Colorado Springs. Following that assignment, he was a Senior Intelligence Oﬃcial in Washington, D.C., where he was involved in compiling data and subsequent production of the morning report to the President of the United States. John served in that capacity for four U.S. Presidents (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.) Always an avid reader of history, John’s knowledge of world aﬀairs was deep and varied.
Retiring from the CIA in 1995, John cast about for where he might retire. He very much wanted to revive his childhood interest in archaeology and so chose Las Cruces, New Mexico. He promptly became a member of the both the Doña Ana County and El Paso Archaeological Societies. John could always be depended to drive his four-wheel drive vehicle on whatever ﬁeld trip was at hand.
In 1999, he joined the Doña Ana Archeological Society in helping Karl Laumbach of Human Systems Research prepare the Victorio Site at Cañada Alamosa for excavation. The following year he was a member of a second ﬁeld eﬀort that included the ﬁrst deep excavations at the Pinnacle Ruin by Dr. Stephen Lekson.
From 2001 through 2011 and beyond, John was the oﬃcial project photographer, taking thousands of images. John would carefully review the images and provided a detailed photo log when the season was over. He also participated in the laboratory eﬀort associated with the project which included ceramic and lithic analysis as well as the processing of samples of all sorts. In addition to Cañada Alamosa, John participated in a number of projects for Human Systems Research, often as the project photographer. He made friends and interacted with a wide variety of Southwestern archaeologists, assisting in Jacob Sedig’s excavations at Woodrow Ruin and funding radiocarbon dates for sites in the Mimbres Valley. In 2006, John received the Richard A. Bice Award for Archaeological Achievement from the Archaeological Society of New Mexico.
John served as the project photographer for Katy Putsavage’s excavation at the Black Mountain site from 2010 to 2012. Beyond recording the excavations, John was skilled at capturing candid photos of the crew in the ﬁeld, washing artifacts, and relaxing over a meal. John was fully committed to the project and the crew. When he wasn’t photographing the site and crew, he surveyed the site for diagnostic artifacts, kept the beer fridge stocked, and carted crew and equipment to and from the site. He was a valued member of the team.
An active member and supporter of the Archaeological Society of 'New Mexico, the Grant County Archaeological Society, the Archaeological Conservancy, and Archaeology Southwest, John took part in programs and tours oﬀered by all of the above organizations as well as the Roads Scholar Program. He was also a regular attendee of local, regional, and, occasionally, national archaeological conferences.
John was never more at home than in the ﬁeld, hiking to an archaeological site or driving the back roads in his 4X4. In many ways, he was able to live his fantasy while contributing almost 30 years of his life to the pursuit of Southwestern archaeology and history. He was a blessing to the ﬁeld and we miss him.
Thank you for sharing this heartfelt tribute to John's life with us, Karl. John's passing leaves a void in our community that will be hard to fill.
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