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