By Thomas A. Parmalee
For almost 20 years, John Fitch was an absolute force at the National Funeral Directors Association, lobbying for legislation that would benefit funeral homes and looking out for their interests on Capitol Hill, the seat of the U.S. government in Washington, D.C.
While he earned a law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law, he is one of those rare people who went to all that trouble to never actually practice law.
“During my interviewing process, I was intrigued by an offer to work on the staff of the Mississippi House of Representatives,” he shared. “I was fascinated with the politics and legislation process, which led me to continue my career in those fields rather than the practice of law.”
It’s a good thing he was so intrigued, as that interest resulted in the NFDA hiring him as its senior vice president of advocacy, a position he served in for more than eighteen years before retiring in 2015.
FuneralVision.com recently caught up with Fitch to learn about what he’s up to now. Edited excerpts follow.
If you would like to nominate yourself or someone you know for a future “Where Are They Now” feature, email the editor.
You were the senior vice president of advocacy for the NFDA for almost 20 years. What are you up to now?
Currently, I am working full time at the Purple Heart Foundation helping to raise funds to support the programs we offer to veterans. As a veteran myself, I wanted to do something to help other veterans. It was time for me to give back.
If readers are interested in learning more about the Purple Heart Foundation and our mission and programs, they can visit this webpage. We offer programs and services to all veterans, not just those who have been awarded the Purple Heart.
You also had a fairly long career in the U.S. Army … can you tell me a little bit about that as well as how you felt it has connected to your life’s work?
I was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army out of the ROTC Program at the University of Virginia. I served on active duty in Germany and Vietnam and reached the rank of captain. After law school, I transferred to the JAG Corps, where I spent several more years in the Reserves. The transferable lessons I learned in the Army were leadership, flexibility, perseverance, patience, loyalty and understanding of people of different backgrounds. All have served me well in my civilian career.
What was the most challenging part of your job at NFDA?
The first challenge was to establish the first ever office in Washington, D.C. The second major challenge was to establish NFDA as the go-to organization with Congress and the relevant federal departments and agencies on all things funeral related. The third major challenge was to engage the NFDA state associations and members on the value of being directly involved in the federal legislative and regulatory policy process as grassroots advocates and experts on funeral service issues. The fourth major challenge was to build and grow the political profile of NFDA through the NFDA political action committee and convince NFDA members of the value of making contributions to it.
Why did you leave – and what do you miss the most?
After 17 years and accomplishing most of my objectives, I felt it was the right time to retire and leave to future of NFDA advocacy to others. I miss the interaction with NFDA members and state association executives. However, I really miss the challenges of educating and advocating funeral service issues with congressional staff and federal agency staff. Representing NFDA in the disaster and emergency management policy process was especially challenging and mostly successful.
What do you enjoy doing now in your spare time or what are you passionate about?
I am passionate about my photography and travel, especially visiting new places and experiencing different cultures.
You’ve spent a lot of time in Washington over the years. Were you surprised by what happened on Jan. 6 … or do you have any thoughts to share about the current state of our government?
I was shocked by what happened on January 6th and what led up to it. I am dismayed with the current political climate in Washington. When I first became a D.C. lobbyist, there was comity among members of both parties and general respect for each other, even though they may have differing opinions on policy and of the institutions of government. There was civility in the legislative and regulatory processes and even respect for those lobbying Congress and the agencies on behalf of their companies, associations or nonprofit clients. All that seems to have been lost in the current political climate. It is unfortunate and really lessens the ability of our government to function as it was designed to under the Constitution and to represent the best interests of our country – not just political posturing.
What is a book you would recommend funeral professionals read and why?
I highly recommend the new book by Duane Hills and Alice Adams titled “One Block West of the White House: Joseph Gawler’s Sons Undertaker of the Presidents.” It is a fascinating history and highlights the important role funeral directors play in the whole funeral process.
Where can people reach you if they want to contact you?
You can email me at this address.
Do you have any final thoughts to share?
Just that I would encourage those who work in funeral service in all its iterations and those who represent those individuals and businesses to actively engage in the political process as well as the legislative and regulatory processes – especially during this very uncertain time. It is critical to ensure the interests of funeral service are represented, advanced and protected as public policy is being formulated. Finally, just live a good life full of love, peace, enjoyment and fun. Enjoy and live each day to the fullest and always stay positive regardless of what life brings you!