Karen Anne Fitze

Mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive was a fix­ture at Hon­fest and sang backup on David DeBoy’s ‘Crabs for Christ­mas: Live’

Baltimore Sun - - OBITUARIES - By Fred­er­ick N. Rasmussen fras­mussen@balt­sun.com

Karen Anne Fitze, a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive and singer whose por­trayal of the char­ac­ter “Dar­lene” at Ham­p­den’s an­nual Hon­fest led to a record­ing spot on David DeBoy’s “Crabs for Christ­mas: Live” com­pact disc, died Oct. 23 of liver dis­ease at Stella Maris Hos­pice. The Parkville res­i­dent was 64. “Some peo­ple look at Hon­fest as a cos­tume party, but I be­lieve it is a salute to the strength, hu­mil­ity and hu­man­ity of the work­ing women in our home­town, and Karen epit­o­mized those char­ac­ter­is­tics,” Mr. DeBoy wrote in an email. “She was ir­re­press­ible, ir­re­sistible and ir­re­place­able.”

“When you’re a hon, it’s what’s in your heart that comes up, and Karen liked dress­ing up,” said Cafe Hon owner Denise Whit­ing, who founded Hon­fest in 1994. “She never looked on it as a job or a chore. She gen­uinely loved it. It gave her a plat­form to do what she loved. She’s go­ing to leave a big hole.”

The daugh­ter of James He­witt Fitze, a Wil­liams & Wilkens printer, and Eve­lyn McIn­tosh Fitze, a home­maker, Karen Anne Fitze was born in Baltimore and raised in Hil­len­dale.

“Karen al­ways liked be­ing in shows at Loch Raven Ele­men­tary School and ju­nior high school. She also took piano lessons,” said her sis­ter, Sue Ellen Fi­lar of Ti­mo­nium. “She al­ways wanted to per­form. She al­ways en­joyed that.”

Ms. Fitze grad­u­ated from Parkville High School in 1970 and worked odd jobs in Ocean City and New Or­leans.

In 1976, she be­gan work­ing in com­mer­cial col­lec­tions for the old Mary­land Na­tional Bank, then in the late 1970s went to work for the old Union Trust Co. She then joined Citi­corp, where she worked 13 years in the le­gal depart­ment as an ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant to the divi­sion pres­i­dent.

Ms. Fitze en­rolled at Tow­son Univer­sity and earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in mar­ket­ing and busi­ness in1983. She then em­barked on a ca­reer in the ar­chi­tec­tural, en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion in­dus­try, where she worked for more than 20 years.

In the late 1980s, she joined Richter Corn­brooks Grib­ble Ar­chi­tects in mar­ket­ing and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment, and from 1991 to 1994 worked in a sim­i­lar ca­pac­ity at Aerosol Mon­i­tor­ing and Anal­y­sis in Hanover.

She sub­se­quently worked three years for GVA Ar­chi­tec­ture and In­te­rior de­sign in Columbia, then for Giles En­gi­neer­ing, a geotech­ni­cal en­gi­neer­ing firm in Columbia. After work­ing for sev­eral other firms, she es­tab­lished The Fitze Group in 2011, which spe­cial­ized in busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and mar­ket­ing. She re­tired in 2014.

“Busi­ness de­vel­op­ment was her love be­cause she was a peo­ple per­son,” said Melinda Kay, a friend of 40 years who lives in city’s Wood-Walker neigh­bor­hood.

“She had a gift for bring­ing peo­ple to­gether. ... She knew how to reach out to peo­ple. She had this gi­gan­tic net­work of peo­ple,” said Ms. Kay, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Amer­i­can In­sti­tute of Ar­chi­tects, Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Chap­ter.

“She taught all of us who knew her that re­la­tion­ships mat­ter. That les­son was price­less,” she said.

Ms. Fitze started dress­ing as a hon when she was a cus­tomer at Valerie Potrzuski’s Ham­p­den beauty par­lor, the Valerie Gallery on 36th Street. Ms. Potrzuski, who played a key role in es­tab­lish­ing Hon­fest, was also founder of the Hair Museum.

“She be­gan dress­ing up and played the part of a hon bet­ter than any­one, since she re­ally was an au­then­tic Baltimore hon,” Ms. Kay wrote in an email.

While work­ing at Aerosol, she be­came close friends with Wendy Savelle Barnes, who be­came her Hon­fest part­ner.

At Hon­fest, the two women had been singing songs and met David DeBoy, an ac­tor and com­poser whose 1981 “Crabs for Christ­mas” is a lament about a Bal­ti­morean stranded on Christ­mas Eve in Hous­ton — with a wish that Santa bring him steamed crabs.

“He was per­form­ing by him­self and then he asked, ‘Would you girls like to back me up?’ And we did and it grew from that. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” said Ms. Barnes, who now lives in Colum­bus, Ohio.

“Those two hons be­came a part of my act, which al­lowed me to fo­cus on the Baltimore women who were the hons — the cashiers, wait­resses and the hard­work­ing women of the city who al­ways cheer­fully called peo­ple, ‘Hey Hon,’” said Mr. DeBoy. “They were the strong women who pro­tected their homes, chil­dren and el­derly par­ents when they got sick. They never showed stress.”

He de­scribed Ms. Fitze as a real “Bawlamer girl — funny, down to earth and pas­sion­ately in love with her town and the char­ac­ters who pop­u­lated it.”

“She was a real lady, and there was never any­thing put on about her. She was that way on and off stage,” said Mr. DeBoy, who lives in Owings Mills.

“See­ing Karen dressed up in her hon at­tire was some­thing to be­hold. Whether she whipped up her own hair, or wore an im­pos­si­bly tall tower of fake tresses, she could not be ig­nored,” he said. “And when she added her pink flamingo sun­glasses, her bee-stung red lips, her capri pants and leop­ard-skin shoes, she was a walk­ing Hon­fest all her own.”

“Her stage name was Dar­lene, and she was Dar­lene to the max,” Ms. Barnes said with a laugh.

The two women in­spired Mr. DeBoy to com­pose more Baltimore songs, which the trio, in per­fect Baltimore ac­cents, per­formed at var­i­ous venues.

When he wrote “Crabs for Christ­mas: Live,” he had Ms. Fitze sing, “Where in the World is Wil­lie?” — a song in which a woman won­ders where the do­nated body parts of her drunken and re­cently de­ceased hus­band have gone. “It brought the house down,” he said. “She was the per­fect ac­com­plice to my mu­si­cal mad­ness; a great per­former, a mag­nif­i­cent co­me­dian and, rarest of all, a singer with no ego, who would to­tally sup­port her fel­low per­form­ers,” he said.

Ms. Fitze also played a hon “fairy” in com­mer­cials for a floor­ing com­pany and a plumb­ing firm.

“Karen’s mu­si­cal abil­i­ties weren’t al­ways well known in the com­mu­nity. She also did sa­cred and clas­si­cal mu­sic,” said Ms. Barnes, who re­cruited her for her church choir. “She was a very ac­com­plished mu­si­cian.”

Ms. Fitze had been an ac­tive mem­ber of St. An­drew Lutheran Church, where she also sang in its choir.

Ms. Fitze was a mem­ber and past vice pres­i­dent and pres­i­dent of the Ridgeleigh Com­mu­nity As­so­ci­a­tion. She also en­joyed spend­ing time at Johnny Dee’s Lounge in Parkville, where a brass plaque on the wall rec­og­nizes her as a loyal pa­tron.

“She was more than a per­former. She was a busi­ness­woman, a lov­ing sis­ter, a dot­ing aunt, and a friend who would walk through fire if you needed her,” Mr. DeBoy wrote.

A gath­er­ing will be held be­gin­ning at 11 a.m. Dec. 11 at Peace­ful Al­ter­na­tives Funeral and Cre­ma­tion Cen­ter, 2325 York Road, Ti­mo­nium. At noon, a memo­rial ser­vice will be­gin.

In ad­di­tion to her sis­ter, she is sur­vived by a niece and two neph­ews. Three mar­riages ended in di­vorce. Karen Anne Fitze “was ir­re­press­ible, ir­re­sistible and ir­re­place­able,” said friend David DeBoy.

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