Jackie Fritch was a true believer in supporting peace

Jackie Fritch.

“Activism in the pursuit of peace was not something Jackie Fritch did, it’s who she was,” said John Wright, minister at Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Salisbury. Fritch, who was a longtime member of that congregation, died Saturday, July 20. She was 86 years old.

Wright, who was her minister for 10 years, struggled to find words to express his admiration for Fritch.

“She was one of the most self-effacing, humble activists I’ve known,” he said, choking up for a moment. “She will be missed so much.”

I first became acquainted with Jackie after 9/11, when she was instrumental in the creation of the Peace Alliance of the Lower Shore, a group that stood in staunch protest of the U.S. government’s actions following the attack that brought down the Twin Towers in Manhattan and damaged the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and taking the lives of more than 3,000 Americans. That attack changed the New York City skyline and in some ways the very nature of our society.

Members of PALS would stand every Sunday afternoon on the sidewalk in front of Salisbury University, along Route 13, holding signs of protest and waving at passers-by. They were a fixture for several years, rain or shine.

That may have been a defining moment for Jackie, but it’s not her legacy.

When I became editorial page editor at The Daily Times, Jackie reached out to me and asked if she could have a guest column run in August, on the anniversary of the U.S. attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that forced an end to World War II. She either wrote those annual columns herself or found someone to do it for her.

That wasn’t all she did to spread words of peace using the platform of The Daily Times and Delmarva Now. Her approach wasn’t confrontational, exactly, but it wasn’t wimpy either. She presented herself as a quiet but strong woman, petite in stature and as the years passed, increasingly. But her spirit never lost its focus or power.

She joined a group of community writers upon whom I called on a weekly basis to write brief commentaries on current events or topics in the news. She mostly participated in the opportunity presented to members of that group to reserve dates to write Sunday guest columns. She not only wrote many such columns herself, always about peace, she also referred various others to write on certain occasions.

I don’t recall where or how I met Jackie in person for the first time, but I encountered her in my travels around the community oftens – at Salisbury Symphony Orchestra concerts and Salisbury Community band concerts, at the grocery store and at the UUFS, where I occasionally attend services and other activities with my son and his wife.

She was one of the most gracious yet staunchly determined people I’ve ever met, and I will miss her now that she’s gone.

“Jackie and I butted heads a lot,” said Wright. “She took my approach to worship as kind of “woo-woo,” which it is. What she didn’t understand is that my commitment to justice is wrapped up in spirituality. What I didn’t understand is that her spirituality is wrapped up in her sense of justice.”

The UUFS congregation is spread across the spectrum in beliefs, liturgical preferences and priorities, but not when it comes to issues involving social justice.

“I relied on Jackie to keep us centered in commitment to justice, to help us maintain a balance,” Wright said.

Jackie’s most enduring legacy is Peace in the Park, an event she helped establish in conjunction with the U.N.’s International Day of Peace and Nonviolence. This year will be the 10th such celebration in Salisbury, to be held this year on Saturday, Sept. 21. The event is always held at City Park, adjacent to Ben’s Red Swings on a spot known as Picnic Island. It’s a family friendly gathering of peace-minded people and organizations, including a number of local churches.

This year Jackie won’t be there, but her spirit will surely be felt.

That Sunday, Sept. 22, her beloved UUFS congregation will celebrate Peace Sunday, as they have in the past, with a service and the annual Potluck for Peace. This year, Wright said, that Sunday will be dedicated to the memory of Jackie Fritch, a humble force of nature who worked ardently behind the scenes to promote peace and tranquility. 

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