Farewell, Capt. Jack Fritz

The death of Capt. Jack Fritz, last Thursday, Feb. 9, brought back of flood of memories for me. Even though Capt. Fritz had been quite ill for the last couple of years, no longer able to arrange everybody and everything into the kind of order he envisioned, it’s still hard to imagine our horse sports without him.

Our horse world would have been much different today, certainly less structured and less reliable, if not for all he did for the USEA, USDF, USEF, USET, USPC, IHSA and more. While I can remember him telling me sternly in an interview almost 30 years ago that he didn’t found or create any of the organizations that administer our sport, he was either present at their founding meeting or joined in soon afterward to shape their development.

Capt. Fritz was chairman at the founding meeting of the U.S. Dressage Federation in 1973 and would serve on numerous committees (often as chairman) for the next 30-plus years. He took part in the founding meeting of the U.S. Eventing Association at the 1959 Pan Am Games and did so much more for the next 45 years. The organization that’s now the U.S. Equestrian Federation was founded five years before Capt. Fritz was born, but in the second half of the 20th century he was one of its busiest licensed officials (and committee members), serving as a judge and technical delegate for both dressage and eventing.

As a history professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, Capt. Fritz advised student Bob Cacchione in the founding of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association in 1967, and he continued to counsel Cacchione about the IHSA almost until his death. He was a co-creator of the North American Young Riders Championships in 1981, and I doubt he missed one of them until the last few years.

Two years after the U.S. Pony Clubs were founded in 1954, Capt. Fritz became a leader of the organization, and he, more than anyone else, shaped its educational and competitive programs for the next 30 years. Pony Club was how I first met him?in 1978 he judged my dressage tests at the regional rally and then at the national rally, and then he was the head examiner at my H-A rating. (He, deservedly, failed me.) Capt. Fritz was the USPC president in 1983-?84 (when I was on the Board of Governors) and then chairman of its Advisory Council for the next six years.

But it was the U.S. Equestrian Team that for more than four decades held the biggest Fritz imprint. He was the vice president for administration from 1974 to 1989 and the secretary from the late ?70s until 1999. He kept scrupulous minutes, and years of listening to him at meetings have long caused me to mimic him whenever I’ve chaired a meeting. I always close the meeting with Capt. Fritz? motion for adjournment: ?There being no more business to come before the committee, a motion was made and duly seconded and voted upon, and the meeting was adjourned.?

All these accomplishments are why, 12 years ago, when I was editor of The Chronicle of the Horse, we named Capt. Fritz one of our 50 Most Influential People of the 20th Century in our Turn of the Century Issue.

At any meeting, of any kind, Capt. Fritz was the guy who knew all the rules of any competition or all the bylaws of any organization, and it was only partly because he?d written most of them. Even the ones he hadn?t written, he?d read and understood, unlike the rest of us.

Capt. Fritz wasn?t much for looking back. He was always looking down the road, driven by his philosophy of ?this is how we should make this better.? He also possessed an amazingly quick, sharp and focused intellect, and he would often remind everyone of it, looking up from some document or book he was reading or editing to bring a wandering conversation back into line.

His mental capacity was one of the many things three friends of mine recalled when I asked them for their memories of Capt. Fritz: Denny Emerson, the former international event rider who’s one of the best teachers in the world, because of his own sharp mind; Ben Duke, who grew up near the USET headquarters in Gladstone, N.J., and played his own key role in shaping the USPC?s educational programs; and Katie Lindsay, an event organizer and official for longer than she?d like me to recall.

Denny, who was also the USET vice president for eventing when Capt. Fritz was there, steered me to what he?d written in a blog on his book?s website (http://howgoodridersgetgood.wordpress.com/). He recalled, ?Jack wasn?t ?easy,? and he was so toweringly intelligent that he suffered fools (and teenagers) only marginally, but, as the current saying goes, Jack ?always had your back.?

Denny added,? ?I’ve sat through hundreds of meetings with Jack. Sometimes he was patient, sometimes irascible, but always, always, he was there. Jack could be fussy, opinionated, professorial, even pedantic, but he was usually right.?

Recalled Ben, ?My favorite story is from when Jack was president of USPC and I was a young, very inexperienced and very new member of the Board of Governors.? We were in a meeting of the governors, and there was something (I’ve long since forgotten what) about which I was very passionate and felt Pony Club should make some substantial change in order to accommodate my passion.? Jack was up at the head table, and he set his eyes on me as though they were the barrels of two high-caliber cannons.? Then, one by one, he shot those cannons right at me, explaining, none too gently I might add, that my place as a young and very new Governor was to listen, to absorb, and to think?not to change Pony Club policy.? His aim was perfect, and I did everything but fall right out of my chair.

?And, I now know just how right he was.? I have served on many boards since then, and I’ve always remembered Jack’s wonderful (albeit abrupt and ruthless) lesson about board service and what makes an effective board member. Jack was a real teacher, and I always have appreciated the fact that he quickly and very effectively ?put me in m place? at that Board of Governors meeting.?

Katie recalled working with Capt. Fritz when she first organized the three-discipline competition that became the North American Young Riders Championships, back in 1981. She remembered, ?The first year the competition was run under the auspices of the FEI, Jack became my guide. Not only did he clarify the often-cumbersome rules to me in plain, non-Swiss English, but he also gently guided me through the potential political pitfalls and obstacles that could possibly impede our progress. I was in awe of his mind then and always shall be.

?Jack was not always easy, however,? Katie continued. ?His capacity to tolerate fools was not one of his long suits, and he was often impatient. He could, however, sum up a tedious committee rambling in about six ell-chosen words.

?Sadly, he did not go gently into the night. Life had become a struggle. Rest in peace, my friend. You shall be missed,? Katie beautifully added.

But, I don’t think that Capt. Fritz wouldn?t want us to waste time grieving his departure. He?d want us, instead, to be improving something, moving forward, going somewhere.

Meanwhile, up in heaven, I’ll bet He’s rounding up his former cohorts Jack Le Goff, Neil Ayer, Col. Donald Thackeray and Lowell Boomer (and others too), and they’re going to teach the angels how to fly better so they can compete in a series of angel three-day events. And he’ll tell them exactly what he thinks of their performance when he judges their dressage tests. Those angels better start practicing now.

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