Walter Stewart Fitch of Oracle died June 2, 2013 following a debilitating fight with operative and post-operative complications as a result of a fall in early March.
Fitch was born March 6, 1926 in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Dr. Franklin Ransom Fitch and Anne Elizabeth Schenk Fitch. He served in the Navy in the last year of World War II in the Pacific Theater. He then attended the University of Chicago where he met his wife, Nancy Joy Babcock of Riverside, California. They were married at Price, Utah in 1947 where he was working during the summer as an electrician in the coal mines.
He obtained a Ph.D. in astronomy under the mentorship of William W. Morgan at the U of C Yerkes Observatory in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. While working on his degree, he was hired to the faculty of the Astronomy Department, University of Arizona, Tucson, by Edwin F. Carpenter, long term director of the Steward Observatory. There he used his naval training in electronics to mechanize the 36-inch reflecting telescope. He was actively involved in the construction of new housing for the original Steward telescope at Kitt Peak in 1962. His academic work centered on pulsating or binary stars. He retired from the University of Arizona in 1986.
After his wife convinced him that one would not die of “critter” death by sleeping on the ground, he became an avid backpacker and hiker. One favorite hike was up Mt. Baldy, in the Santa Rita Mountains. This peak became known to the family as “Wally’s peak” as few other family members could surmount it.
Nearing retirement, he and Nancy became members of the Tucson Sailing Club frequently traveling to Rocky Point to sail in the Gulf of California. He is remembered for his odd mixture of gentleness and gruffness best illustrated by a ditty written by the staff of the National Observatory of Mexico in Baja California: “Si oyes en la noche el grito ‘Son of a B…,’ no te espanta solo es el Senor Dr. Walter Fitch” He made meticulous lists, including a detailed record of precipitation and temperature and corresponding bird and animal sightings along the National Forest boundary in Oracle for the last 26 years. Those lists are to be donated to appropriate organizations.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Nancy; four children and their spouses, Selena Billington and Jim Dewey, Tod and Leslie Fitch, Alanah Fitch and Al Benson, and Sandra and Gene Houghton; and two grandchildren, Erika and Adam Benson. A private memorial will be held in the future.
In lieu of flowers the family suggests a donation in his name to the Tri-Community Food Bank, 108 Redwood St., Mammoth, AZ, 85618.