A retirement reception on Thursday highlighted Fitts’ retirement after 44 years of leading the Lafayette County-Oxford Public Library.
The New Jersey native came to Oxford with her Tupelo-native husband, Tom, when he enrolled at the University of Mississippi.
“We were always going to move, but every time we decided Oxford was a better place,” she said.
In 1968, Fitts went to work at the public library on Monroe Avenue with two other employees and 5,000 books.
In the mid-1970s she oversaw the transition to a new library building, which now totals 20,000 square feet with more than 100,000 volumes – one of the busiest libraries in the state on a per-capita basis.
“When it was time to go to the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Supervisors, she’s gone ahead of time and told them what they had to do,” said Darryail Whittington, president of the library board.
Fitts has emphasized enthusiasm and meticulous attention for the needs of patrons.
“We take a census three times a year – when people come in, what they do when they’re here, what they need from the library,” she said. “We try to plan our staffing and equipment and collections for that.”
Fitts said her staff has made the job look far easier than it actually is.
“People think librarians sit around reading books all day,” she joked.
Off the job, she reads “a zillion cookbooks … decorating books, flower arranging … the more aesthetic kinds of things – not that I do them,” she said. She also loves crime novels and Adrian Trigiani’s “The Shoemaker’s Wife,” among many others.
Fitts plans to spend her retirement doing more of the volunteer work, from Girl Scouting to Garden Club, that she’s done all along, as well as extended time with scattered relatives, including their four children.
While she’s already enjoying her change of pace, Fitts said she misses her staff “and meeting all different kinds of people. You’d be amazed how many people stop by the library when they’re on their first visit to Mississippi.”
Laura Beth Walker, who has worked with Fitts for 15 years, succeeds as head librarian the woman she calls “my second mom.”
“She’s the most energetic, knowledgeable person I’ve ever met. She knows everybody who’s ever lived in Oxford, and she knows the answer to every question,” Walker said. One thing she misses already is the joke Fitts made first thing each day.
“When she would get here in the morning,” Walker recalled, “she’d walk in and say, ‘Did y’all think I wasn’t coming?’”