Haskell Fitz-Simons died Sunday, May 12 at UNC Memorial Hospital of complications resulting from lymphoma.
Haskell was the Artistic Director of the Raleigh Little Theatre for the last 30 years. It was a job that he dearly loved, and even though he dealt with a number of serious health issues recently, he always was insistent that, “The show must go on.” Haskell had an outgoing and charismatic personality that radiated a wry sense of humor and a passion for his interests. His laugh was very distinctive, infectious and unforgettable, and his witty comments and clever expressions were legendary. Although primarily known for directorship at the RLT, he was equally involved in music and founded the well-known Oakwood Waits, in which he sang and arranged music for 29 years. Haskell’s knowledge of all music genres, composers, conductors, and operas was as expansive as his knowledge of the theatre. He was a member of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, where he sang in the choir. His extensive intellect on multiple subjects made him a much sought-after teammate in games of Trivial Pursuit. He was a voracious reader, and gifting him with any book that he had not read was always a holiday challenge. Haskell was a wonderful and loyal friend to many and a mentor to hundreds. His extended family of theatre and musical friends was huge. He had a positive and magical impact on everyone he met. His enthusiasm and encouragement helped launch and sustain many a career in the theatre.
Haskell was born on August 1, 1948 in Chapel Hill into a theatrical family but was the only one of four brothers who followed his mother and father, Foster and Marion Fitz-Simons, into the theatre business. He began his career as a teenager, playing different roles in “Unto These Hills” in Cherokee, NC with his parents and brothers. He also performed in “The Lost Colony” and frequently returned for reunions of cast members, including the gala 75th Anniversary of The Lost Colony in 2012. After receiving a degree in Directing and Theatre Management at UNC-Chapel Hill, Haskell worked with the Light Opera Company in Manhattan and did an apprenticeship at the Alley Theatre in Houston. After receiving an MFA in Theatre from UNC Chapel Hill in 1979, he taught for two years at Vance Granville Community College before accepting a teaching position to work as drama instructor at the University of Wisconsin at Superior. He accepted the position of Artistic Director of the Raleigh Little Theatre in 1983, a position he enthusiastically enjoyed for the rest of his life.
Haskell is survived by his beloved cat, Lola, his three brothers and their families, Sean and Ann Fitz-Simons, (Blain Fitz-Simons Morton), Gordon and Carolyn Fitz-Simons (Patrick Fitz-Simons) and Terence and Linda FitzSimons (Melissa FitzSimons Stankus, Jon Taylor FitzSimons). His extended family of lifelong friends includes Maggie Bunce, Eric Ellenburg, Homer Foil, David Jefferson Sorrells, Gail Hutchison, Jim Byrum, Dee and Chris Penven-Crew and many others who he would have considered to be part of his family.
His joyful spirit will be dearly missed by his family and friends but will live on in the lives and memories of everyone he touched. He has left us all feeling better just for him being a part of our lives.
A Memorial Service will be held on Tuesday, May 21 at 4:00pm at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Canterbury Road. Reception will follow in the church Fellowship Hall. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be sent to the Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St. Raleigh, NC 27607 or The Wake County Animal Shelter, 820 Beacon Lake Drive, Raleigh, NC 27610 or SafeHaven for Cats, 8431-137 Garvey Drive, Raleigh, NC 27616.