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Harlan Fitch gave his all for Groton, says selectmen Chairman Fran Dillon

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GROTON — The town lost one of its most loved and well-known citizens when longtime resident Harlan Fitch died at the Nashoba Valley Medical Center Wednesday morning.

Fitch, 88, was born on Dec. 8, 1916, the son of James and Hattie Fitch and was one of four siblings who included three sisters. His wife, the former Louise Blood, preceded him in death by some years.

The cause of Fitch’s death is not known yet. He was discovered unconscious, on the floor of his Longley Road home and rushed to the hospital.

“He wasn’t responding or answering phone calls, so my sister went to his house and found that he had fallen to the floor and become immobile,” said sister Zelda Moore, of Ayer. “He was unconscious. He was taken by ambulance to the Nashoba Medical Center, where he spent several days in the hospital but never revived consciousness.”

Moore said her brother died at 3:35 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5.

“The actual cause of death was not concluded, and the doctors could not find an answer,” said Moore.

Predictably, the death of a so well-liked and loved member of the community has strongly affected many Groton residents who knew him.

“He contributed greatly to the town,” said Town Clerk Onorina Maloney. “He was a tremendous asset as an election warden. He was so knowledgeable and he was there before the polls went up and afterward to help take them down. I just don’t have the words to describe him. He’s going to be incredibly missed.”

In his long involvement with town government, an involvement that stretched over 56 years, Fitch served in many official capacities, including as a Planning Board member for almost 25 years, town treasurer, surveyor of wood and lumber, fence viewer, a Board of Assessors member, election warden and even as town diarist. At the time of his death, he served as a member of the Sewer Commission and the Town Forest Committee.

In addition, Fitch also was a member of the Groton Grange for 70 years, helped fashion the town’s earliest set of zoning bylaws and donated open land for conservation to the town.

In 2003, he won the Robert W. Lewis Award for Outstanding Citizen or Volunteer from the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Fitch, a graduate of the University of Maine, majoring in forestry, was also a local businessman and a veteran.

“Over the years Harlan served on a lot of things,” said Hartnett. “He was a surveyor early in his career. He was just a very, very wonderful man. He was in the Christmas tree business, too, and for years, people would come to get their trees from him. He was extremely active right up to the end.”

In addition to his own official duties, Fitch could also be found in attendance at meetings of many other boards and committees. Always informed, he seemed to know anything about everything.

“He was kind and thoughtful,” said Moore. “He loved to read and research and gather information.”

Hartnett said, “At town meetings, when everybody thought they knew everything about an article, Harlan would sit there quiet till the end and then raise his little pencil in the air and ask ‘Did anyone think of this?’ and people would say ‘You know, we didn’t think of that!’ But Harlan did think of it. And lots of times he solved the big problems. He was like that.

“And when it came to people’s needs he always found a way to help them out of a problem,” he said. “He was a stickler for detail, but when someone was in trouble, he was always there. And he would always do the right thing. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Selectmen Chairman Fran Dillon said, “Having been myself born and brought up in this town, I’ve known Harlan for most of my life. Harlan also just happened to graduate from high school with my uncle.

“He’s been a very important factor in the fabric and character of Groton that makes Groton the great community that it is,” he said. “He was very proud of this community and proud of its history and the participation that he and his family had in it. He dedicated his life to preserving the character of our town by being so active in town government.”

Former town clerk Bonnie Biocchi said, “Every once in a while there comes a person in your life that sets such an outstanding example and who is such a remarkable person that you hope you, too, could emulate his qualities and to me that was Harlan Fitch. I will never forget him. He made a tremendous contribution to the town of Groton.”

“He will be missed by all who knew him,” Dillon said. “His legacy of giving the highest level of public service to this town sets a standard for others to follow. He really gave his all for the town.”

At the time of this writing, arrangements had yet to be made for funeral services.

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