DOVER-FOXCROFT – Bertha Washburn Fitzgerald, 90, died Feb. 15, 2012, at Hibbard Nursing Home, Dover-Foxcroft. She was born April 4, 1921, the middle child of Fred and Hattie Washburn’s nine children.
She grew up in Dover-Foxcroft and graduated in 1939 from Foxcroft Academy, where she actively participated in girls’ basketball, junior and senior plays, debate club and was a member of the National Honor Society. She was proud of the many awards and honors she earned at Foxcroft Academy. She often spoke of her wonderful years growing up in Dover-Foxcroft in the 1920s and 1930s. She earned her nursing degree at Orange Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in New Jersey and was the first in her graduating class to have a nursing position – even before graduation! It was in New Jersey that she met her husband, Tom Fitzgerald. Because of the War they married while he was on leave between assignments as a Navy Seabee. She often joked that he went on their "honeymoon" with 1,000 men to Bermuda while she stayed behind as head nurse at Essex County Isolation Hospital. Later she joined the U.S. Army Corps, serving as a nurse anesthetist at Hallorhan General Hospital, Staten Island, N.Y., a position for which she was very proud. When her children were school age, Berta returned to school, then known as Jersey City State College, to earn her Bachelor of Science degree and school nurse certification, while working as a school nurse and health teacher at North Junior High School, Bloomfield, N.J. From its inception in 1976 to 2007, Berta was a participant in the Nurses’ Health Study – cohort/study I – conducted by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, researching various health and lifestyle issues, producing landmark data on chronic diseases. Berta exemplified the study’s premise that diet, physical activity and other lifestyle factors have a profound influence on a healthy life. The family spent summers vacationing on Sebec Lake, Dover-Foxcroft. It was the opportunity for Berta, her husband and daughters to gather with the rest of the large Washburn clan. Eventually Tom and Berta purchased their beloved camp on Sebec Lake. She loved swimming in Sebec Lake and at age 79, in July 2000, won first place in her age group swimming from the beach to Prides Point and back – 1.5 miles in two hours and 23 minutes. After retiring Tom and Berta sold their home in Bloomfield and bought a house in Dover-Foxcroft that her father and his brother built on West Main Street in the 1940s. She was thrilled to be living in her hometown again and became active in various organizations. Berta was the first senior exercise leader for the PRYMCA when classes were held at Central Hall, before the building on Park Street existed. She also taught country line dances to a group of seniors at the Y. In 2005 Berta was honored with the PRYMCA Capt. Whitney Wright Volunteer of the Year award for her dedication and years of service. She was a Sunday school teacher and served on various committees and clubs at Dover-Foxcroft Congregational Church. She was a committee member, program supporter and host, and ragtime dancer for Arcady Summer Concerts when they performed in Dover-Foxcroft. She was also a reading buddy for students at SeDoMoCha.
Berta was predeceased by her husband, Tom; her oldest sister, Charlotte Washburn Palmer and husband, Leon; brother, Frank, who was killed in World War II; brother, Robert Washburn and his wife, Norma; brothers-in-law, Keith Parkman, Dwight Woodworth and Herb Grant; and sons-in-law, David Groel and Michael Tucker. She is survived by sisters, Metella Washburn Woodworth of Dover-Foxcroft, Mabel Washburn Parkman of Mechanicville, N.Y., Jane Washburn Grant of Dover-Foxcroft and Carolyn Washburn Olson and her husband, Oscar, of Pittsfield, Mass.; brother, Richard Washburn of Tacoma, Wash.; and special friend and "in-law sister," Barbara Wilson. She will be lovingly missed by her daughters, Roberta Fitzgerald and husband, Don Catts, of Indian Mills, N.J., Margaret Hon and husband, Sam Hon, of Greenpond, N.J., Virginia Fitzgerald of Bangor and Catherine Tucker of Nutley, N.J. She will be fondly remembered by grandchildren, Kari Schoch, Emily Schmelz, Heidi Nienhouse and Tom Groel and their families. In addition she is survived by eight stepgrandchildren and many great-grandchildren. The family extends a special thank-you to the caring staff at Hibbard’s Nursing Home and to her friends at Dover-Foxcroft Congregational Church for their love and support throughout the years.
A memorial service will be planned for the summer. Arrangements are in the care of Lary Funeral Home, Dover-Foxcroft. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Congregational Church General Fund, P.O. Box 328, Dover-Foxcroft, ME 04426, Piscataquis County YMCA, 48 Park St., Dover-Foxcroft, ME 04426 or the Hattie & Fred Washburn Scholarship Fund at Foxcroft Academy, 975 West Main St., Dover-Foxcroft, ME 04426. Messages of condolence and memories may be expressed at