A friend to many of us, Russell White, recently went to be with our Lord. At the time of his demise, he lived between Bryan and Hearne, but he grew up in Madisonville. He was a 1970 graduate of Madisonville High School and lived here much of his life. I knew him as long as I can remember and had great admiration of him.
Russell and his wife, Lucinda, lived here in 1982. Their first son, David Clinton (1982-1993), was born that March, with severe health problems which would prevent him from growing up like most children. I was pregnant then, to deliver in June. I was 30, an older mother, and I guess because of that, I was just a bit frantic at times. My dad teased me, saying I was like an old mare. I will never forget that soon after his first son’s birth, Russell stopped by my house, to comfort me. I’ve wondered if he may have had ESP. Russell wanted to make sure that I understood that his son’s health problems occurred something like one-in-a-million births. He kept saying, “You have nothing to worry about. Your baby will be fine. Just know it.” I felt so guilty, I should have been consoling him, not the other way around. I have spent little time with Russell, before then or after, but I have always thought of him as one of the kindest men I have ever known. God rest his soul now.
Steve Andrews, a longtime friend of Russell’s, recently told about working cattle with White. For many years, Steve’s father, Kenneth, ran cattle out just south of town on Highway 90, and Russell often helped pen them. As they neared the pens, Russell always had his rope out (in his hands). Usually one calf would make a break and Russell would get the chance to follow it and throw a loop. He loved that!
Andrews also recalled that whenever anyone got into Russell’s truck, they had to find a place to sit down, because he believed in having everything he’d ever need in his truck. He always kept a whet rock (used for sharpening knives) on his dashboard. Steve said, “I’d get in, grab that whet rock, and sharpen my knife, and Russell always said, ‘Rooster (Steve), why don’t you sharpen mine?’ I would. Russell always had a good smile, a big laugh, and whenever we met up we’d share new jokes and laughs.”
Bill White, now of Wheelock, was Russell White’s longtime friend and acted as a pallbearer. Bill lived in Madisonville in the past, and he and Russell worked together at a couple of different jobs through the years and visited when they could. The two big men, both blonde cowboys, were often wrongly assumed to be related. When asked about that, Russell sometimes replied, “Yeah, we’re twin cousins,” though the only real relationship was friendship.
Recently Bill White stated, “The thing I really loved was Russell’s humbleness and generosity. He would do anything or help anyone at any time.” Through the years, we rode each other’s horses at times. By chance he rode my horse two times at different events, and he won a saddle and buckle at one and a saddle at another. Afterwards I joked and said one should be mine, and he quickly said, ‘Take it’. I then refused, because I’d just been joking. That saddle sat in his house for a long time, and it may still be there.”
White also confided, “Seeing how Russell and Lucinda were with each other, it was obvious they were extremely in love. He was never so macho that he was embarrassed to show it. He and I always got together at some time during Christmas. This year he came to my house, sat down, and we talked for 45 minutes. When he got ready to leave, I rode to the gate with him so I could close it before turning out some horses. We talked another 30 minutes after we got to the gate. During those last minutes, Lucinda called, and as always, they sounded like teenagers. Their affections were apparent, and they unabashedly greeted each other with ‘Hello, Baby’ and Hi, Darling.’ That day she had been worried about him and was just checking, and unlike many men, he welcomed her call and interruption.’”
Bill added one more thing. “Russell always stood up for what he believed in, even when it did not matter. He left big shoes for his friends and family to fill, in treating others.”
Madison County Museum has a new exhibit, in honor of one of my favorite men, Prince Fite. He was recently the topic of an article in Postcards from the Pineywoods. That, and the fact this year marks Mr. Fite’s 40th year of service as an educator in Madison County prompted the exhibit. Those 40, plus 10 years working in education elsewhere, adds up to FIFTY years that this great man has dedicated to serving young people and education.
Mr. Fite was born in Athens, TX, where he grew up and attended Fisher High School. The Museum exhibit includes the trumpet that he played there.
Fite attended and received a Bachelor of Science in Education degree from Paul Quinn College, then in Waco. After that, he enrolled at Sam Houston State University in pursuit of a Master’s in Educational Administration. I find if humorous that Fite stopped short of that degree, after 30 hours, when he decided NOT to pursue a career as a public school administrator! Later he did get his Master’s, at Prairie View but after losing the first 30 hours from SHSU due to time lapse. The extra work didn’t seem to bother Mr. Fite, who always sees things in a positive way. He said, “Every step of my education has paid off for me.”
Prince Fite has worked with all ages. He started out teaching math at Marian Anderson High School in 1966, back before integration. After integration, that school became Madisonville Junior High and he taught there too. Then he quit teaching and worked for a while as a director of education at a job training facility for mentally challenged youth. Through the years, he also taught English, and worked at Centerville and Normangee schools, as well as at Ferguson Prison facility at Windham School District. He loved that job, but we in Madisonville can be thankful that he needed more pay to support his family. He’s been back in Madisonville schools since 1986. He was assistant principal at our local high school 1986-2002. Since the fall of 2002, Fite has been assistant principal at Madisonville Elementary School, where he gets countless hugs every day, with many students calling him “Papa”.
Mr. Fite has been married to his wife, Mary, since 1967. Looking at her, I wonder, did they marry when she was 5? They have 3 children, Allison, Zachary, and Christasia. The Museum exhibit includes photos of the family. In at least one photo, Prince and Mary sport Afro hair styles! That’s worth a trip to view!
It amazes me that Fite doesn’t become a hermit after his busy days, but he’s very civic-minded. He’s active in Madison County Juneteenth Club, Madison County Retired School Personnel (as he technically retired once), Madison County Crime Stoppers, and the Child Welfare Advisory Board. For many years, he and Mary have been licensed foster care parents. Prince is also active in Fisher High School Alumni Association (in Athens), and has served as its president for the past 8 years. He attends Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church where he is a deacon and choir member.
Prince Fite runs into former students daily. Not long ago, at a church Fifth Sunday service being held at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church, Fite was visiting with Lanier Stevens when another guy walked up. Lanier commented, “You know this old boy, don’t you, Prince”, to which Fite replied, “I don’t think I do.” The third commented, “He probably doesn’t recognize me now, but if I turn around and he sees my behind, he’d recognize me!” Fite instantly said, “Mark Green!” The recognition is amazing, since Fite knew Mark before coming back to Madisonville in 1986! Later he stated, “Mark attended Normangee High School and was in my office pretty regularly. He was a good kid, but I did have to tap his behind a few times!”
At the end of the Postcards article, Mr. Fite stated, “I’m thankful for the life God has given me and for the many family members, colleagues, students, and friends He has blessed me with.” On a personal level, I have dealt with this great man as a colleague, friend, and a parent. When my own daughter was at high school here and he was assistant principal, I regularly begged him to stay until she graduated. My daughter and I got lucky there. I am very thankful for his life and that so much of it has been spent here, in Madison County! I know I’m only one of many who feel this way.
For several weeks now, the Meteor has contained some unidentified photos every couple of weeks, alternating with Museum Musings. So far we got lucky with one photo! Frances Hooper called after recognizing family members in a photo on page 13 of the January 25 newspaper. That photo included, left to right, Frances’s father, James Wylie Reynolds, his sister Elizabeth Hightower, and his brother, J.R. Reynolds. The photo was taken in Trinity in June of 1955, and Frances says she thinks she herself probably took the photo.
Frances Hooper now lives in Mecca, on FM 978 West, and is married to Ford Hooper. Though she grew up in Trinity, her parents had connections in Madison County even before she came along. In the 1920s, they lived in the Brushy Community of our county, but they moved to Trinity in the 30s. We are blessed that we got Frances here after she and Ford married!
The Museum is now marketing Volumes I and II of Recipes and Remembrances, Madison County Recipes. Volume I was published in 2009 and had sold out, but we had more printed and they have arrived. Volume II, published this past fall, sold well and the stock was getting low, so we reordered that too. They are $10 each and shipped copies are $15 each. If you order by mail, please specify if you want Volume I or II or both. Send your requests to Madison County Museum, P.O. Box 61, Madisonville, TX 77864.
Madison County Museum welcomes your input. We seek help in identifying photos as mentioned above, and we also welcome ideas for exhibits or activities. We accept memorial donations or gifts. The Museum is open for your visits 10-2, Wednesday-Saturday, at 201 North Madison. Museum Curator Jane Day Reynolds welcomes your visit or calls to 936.348.5230.