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Passing of a Light Up Legend

In the mid-1980s my sister and I rented a store front from Bill Fitzpatrick in the Hall Building on First Avenue in Ladysmith. Bill Fitzpatrick was helpful to two young entrepreneurs starting out in the rag trade because of his past experience in said trade. He was a great source of information about weaving our ideas into the fabric of the business community in Ladysmith.

It was our first November in the building, and in he walks with a box full of strings of outdoor Christmas lights. Though neatly stored, there were many colours of lights — some missing — in the strings. In true Bill-style, he informed me that we were to replace the bulbs with two green bulbs, one twinkle, two green, one twinkle and so on, and have them up outside of the store front by the fourth Thursday of the month. It did get under my skin that I had no say in the colours because I was to foot the bill for these lights. ( I was young then; those things no longer matter to me now.)

I was promptly informed there was a colour theme, starting at the Bob Stuart Park and ending at the Hall buildings. Far be it from me to argue with Bill Fitzpatrick. For those who have tried to win an argument with him you will know my dilemma. I wondered at this point just how Chuck Perrin and Diana Childs were going to deal with the Pharmasave Building, as the size was far greater than what I had to deal with. Bill was on his way to their place, with a car loaded down with boxes of strings of lights. My goodness, it would have been a treat to see Uncle Walter’s reaction to this polite demand. Wayne and Harmina Richmond had no qualms of meeting these requests, and the 49th Parallel Grocery store looked beautiful for Light Up.

When my future husband, Garth, entered into the picture and it was obvious we where a forever fit, Bill informed me I was crazy for getting married, as it would get in the way of our thriving business. I actually think Bill had the hots for Garth, in all honesty. I questioned this again the year Bill came into the shop and invited us to a “screwing party” at Myf Plecas’ house. (These would become known in the future as “screwing parties” because volunteers worked on screwing in the light bulbs.)

In the following years, those strings of lights have grown into the huge Festival of Lights we know today.

When my son, Tyler, was born so to was “Uncle Fitzy.” My daughter, Hahlay, and Tyler have had Christmas gifts sent to them from the far reaches of the world that where a great source of joy to them, but not always to their parents. The parcel under the tree that was beaten up from travel and covered in strange stamps always held fascinating wonders inside, such as unique puppets and daggers sent from Thailand, India and other exotic places where Bill spent his winters. He enjoyed pushing the limits even when it came to child safe and appropriate gifts.

He was right. I did prefer family life over being a business owner, but thankfully this did not prevent us sharing birthday celebrations through the years, being there for each other as we mourned the loss of loved ones, enjoying many a meal together at 910 4th Avenue, and having numerous discussions on the topics of Light Up and all things and people relating to Ladysmith.

When Garth and I decided to explore our options a few years ago and take up long-term employment in Whangarei, New Zealand, Bill shared our excitement and offered to keep a close eye on Tyler, Hahlay and Katie, and so he did. He kept us informed on the important matters and sugar coated nothing. I have had many a good laugh over the last few years, as phone conversations that you are too far away to do anything about can be. It was his honesty I admired most.

As we all know the humble beginnings of The Festival of Lights has grown into a key part of our history. Duck and Tracy Paterson took a gorgeous photo of the roundabout last year, covered in snow and alive with light. I shared it with our loved ones in New Zealand and had great pleasure in telling them all about the festival and the beautiful people of Ladysmith that continue to commit so much of their heart and soul to the town.

I am relieved he is at peace, but this is not making the missing him feeling any lighter. The memories that my family shared with William Fitzpatrick will glow like two green Christmas lights and one twinkling light forever.

– Loyola van Rooyen Buck

Ed Note: There will be a bon voyage party at 3770 Shell Beach Rd. in Bill’s memory on July 23, 2017 at 4pm. Bring a dish for a pot luck picnic, your beverage of choice and a lawn chair.  Join us as we celebrate a life gone but not forgotten.

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About the author: Angie

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