The Rev. R. Douglas Pitt, Episcopal rector, dies

He had led the restoration of Waverly's St. John's-Huntingdon Episcopal Church

  • Rev. Douglas Pitt, shown in 1997
Rev. Douglas Pitt, shown in 1997 (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
February 03, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

The Rev. R. Douglas Pitt, a retired Episcopal rector who had been senior minister at Old St. Paul's in downtown Baltimore and earlier served two other city parishes, died Jan. 27 of complications from a stroke at Gilchrist Hospice Care.

He was 85.

Mr. Pitt was born and raised in Richmond, Va., and attended the University of Virginia, earning his bachelor's degree in 1951 from the University of Richmond.

His college studies were interrupted by service with the Army's 279th General Hospital during the Berlin airlift after World War II.

Mr. Pitt graduated in 1954 from Bexley Hall, the divinity school of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he won a prize for his preaching.

He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1955 in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.

"I must begin by saying that the Church is a very important part of my heritage. My earliest realization of any influence on my own life comes from early childhood when I considered my Uncle Wythe Kinsolving my hero," Mr. Pitt wrote some years ago in biographical notes.

"He was a clergyman as were all of his brothers and his father before me. Much later he was to tell me that he gave himself full credit for my choosing to enter the ministry," he wrote.

Mr. Pitt's first assignment after ordination was assistant to the administrator of the Blue Ridge Missions in Stanardsville, Va., which meant running some "20 missions and chapels located on both sides of the Blue Ridge between the city of Charlottesville and Luray," Mr. Pitt recalled in his notes.

"My Sundays were spent traveling considerable distances to cover as many church services as possible," he wrote.

In 1957, Mr. Pitt became rector of the Gibson-Neve Parish, which comprised three churches in Green County, Madison County and Albermarle County, Va.

During his years in rural Virginia, Mr. Pitt served as chaplain and on the board of the Blue Ridge School, a preparatory school for boys and for children from broken homes, and Bloomfield, a home and school for children with physical disabilities.

Through Mr. Pitt's efforts, the school was able to relocate from the rural Blue Ridge to a new facility near the University of Virginia Hospital's Children's Rehabilitation Center in Charlottesville.

During his divinity school days at Kenyon, Mr. Pitt became acquainted with Dr. Alfred Starratt, who was chaplain and rector of the parish and later became rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore.

In 1970, Dr. Starratt asked Mr. Pitt to come to Baltimore and be his assistant at Emmanuel Church, where he served until being named rector in 1980 of St. John's-Huntingdon.

What Mr. Pitt found when he took over the church, which was built in 1858 on the foundations of a church that dated to 1847, was a congregation in decline, sagging parish finances, falling plaster and a building sorely in need of restoration.

Mr. Pitt turned to craftsmen and architects, consulted with the Victorian Society locally and nationally for advice, and was backed in his efforts by the congregation and vestry.

To raise money for the work, Mr. Pitt founded the Friends of St. John's. The initial work saw restoration of the organ and church bells. By the time of its rededication in 1983, the interior of the church had regained its original splendor.

In 1991, Mr. Pitt announced his retirement, having reached age 65.

Later that year, the Rev. William Noble McKeachie invited Mr. Pitt to join the clergy staff of Old St. Paul's.

"I gave Douglas the title of senior minister, and he was invaluable to me as my pastoral assistant. He visited the elderly and those in hospital, bringing them Communion. And as they say, he 'loved the widow and the orphan,' " said Mr. McKeachie, retired dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston, S.C.

"Devotedness characterized his life both to Christ, the church and the people of Christ. His ministry spanned the generations," Mr. McKeachie said. "He reached out to the younger generation and families. He had a wonderful, grandfatherly way with children."

Mr. McKeachie said it was Mr. Pitt who came up with the idea of having an early afternoon Christmas Eve service so families and children could attend.

As he had done earlier at St. John's, Mr. Pitt assisted in the restoration in the early 1990s of Old St. Paul's, and also was interim rector after Mr. McKeachie had departed for Charleston.

"He was the right man at the right time for the restoration of Old St. Paul's. He used to hold what he called 'Cottage Meetings,' with everyone involved. He put a lot of energy into his ministry," said Richard R. "Rob" Harwood III, who was junior warden at the time of the restoration and worked closely with Mr. Pitt.

"Douglas loved Old St. Paul's, its history, liturgy and music," he said. "He was also a generous and attentive friend. He liked people, and he needed friends, too. That was important for him, to have people around him who cared about him."

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