Fitzhugh McMaster Legerton ’47

Fitzhugh McMaster Legerton, Sr, a man of deep integrity and subtle wit, a retired pastor, who cared deeply especially for persons carrying the burdens of society, died Wednesday, February 7. He was 97.
A thinker who loved a good conversation, Fitz was curious about science, philosophy, history, literature, politics, and people. He kept index cards in his pocket to write names and notes on new people he encountered. He listened intently, asking thoughtful questions, providing perspective, and sending clippings and articles from the many books, journals, and newspapers he read daily. Playful with words and ideas, the three books open on the day he died, beside his reading place on his couch give a glimpse into his mind: Muller’s The Loom of History (1958), Lee’s Language Habits and Human Affairs: an introduction to semantics (1941), and Colson Whitehead’s 2020 novel, Nickel Boys.
With a sober demeanor, Fitz also had bright eyes and a winning smile. He was a delightful playmate, with candy and toys in his home, playing musical chairs at a family dinner, chasing little ones around the house, making marble-rolling games that three generations have loved, even allowing the children to play “beauty salon” with his hair. All four generations loved being together in the Montreat, North Carolina, home his grandmother built in 1916.
Fitz was born on June 20, 1926, in Charleston, South Carolina. His parents were Clarence William Legerton, Sr, and Winnie McMaster Legerton; he had two older brothers, Clarence W. Legerton, Jr and Clifford Lewis Legerton. He attended Davidson College, entered the U.S. Navy and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1946, with a commission in the Chaplain’s Corps. On December 20, 1946, Fitz married Emmy Lou Capps, of Washington DC, whom he knew from Montreat.
He received graduate degrees from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia (B.D.) and from Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.M.). At Union Presbyterian Seminary, he served as President of the Senior Class and, at graduation, received the Nellie Payne Drum Fellowship for further graduate study. In 1967, Presbyterian College awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.
An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA), Fitz was called to the pastorate of the Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia in 1950. He served as Pastor of Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church until his retirement in 1992, when he was named Pastor Emeritus. He completed continuing education studies every year of active ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, Union Presbyterian Seminary, Union Theological Seminary in New York, Furman University, and at Manchester College, Oxford University in England. He arranged pastorate exchanges in Oregon, England, and New Zealand.
During his ministry in Atlanta, Fitz served as Moderator of the Presbytery of Atlanta, on committees in the church, a commissioner to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, and was an engaged leader in many educational, civic, nonprofit, justice, and social service organizations throughout his life. On the boards of Pace Academy and Oglethorpe University, Fitz also taught courses at Oglethorpe University and at Columbia Theological Seminary. He co-chaired “Christmas International House” in which local churches hosted international students attending colleges and universities from other areas of the United States.
An award-winning newspaper column Fitz wrote is entitled, “True Religion is Often a Disturbing Force in Life.” That understanding of the gospel is how he lived out his ministry and his life. In the 1950s, he chaired the Race Relations committee of the ecumenical Christian Council in Atlanta, helping to craft the “Atlanta Manifesto” in November 1957 (co-signed by eighty Protestant clergy) and its 1958 version (co-signed by 300 interfaith clergy). This statement identified six principles they deemed essential for promoting racial justice. The Presbyterian Historical Society in Montreat, North Carolina, has in its archives an exhibit on the Atlanta Manifesto and its place in the South’s involvement in the civil rights movement.
In 1994, Fitz and Emmy Lou moved to Montreat, North Carolina (NC), and Fitz became Assistant to the President for Church Relations at Warren Wilson College. He served in this capacity from 1994 until 2005. In their new community, the Legertons participated in Leadership Asheville for Seniors, and Fitz served as precinct chair for the Buncombe County Democratic Party. Fitz and Emmy Lou were Patrons of the Montreat Conference Center for the PCUSA, and they were deeply involved at Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church, in the Verner Center for Early Learning, and Highland Farms Retirement Community, where they moved in 2014. Fitz loved his men’s breakfast group, book clubs (one that lasted for him and Emmy Lou for over forty years) and being closer to family in Montreat. His dear Emmy Lou died on November 23, 2015.
The Rev. Dr. Legerton is survived by his and Emmy Lou Capps Legerton’s three adult children:
Winifred Roper Legerton [Winn] of Black Mountain NC, her daughter, Hannah Legerton Young of Greensboro, NC, and her loved ones with her beloved husband, John J. Young, Sr., who died in 2016: John J. Young, Jr. of Middlebury, VT and Molly Young Maass of Alexandria, VA and their families.
Fitzhugh McMaster Legerton, Jr. [Mac] of Pembroke, NC and his spouse, Donna F. Chavis, their four children-Rhiannon Chavis-Wanson (Derek Wanson) and family, Dakotah Chavis-Legerton, Amanda Chavis-Legerton and family, Priscilla Woods and family.
John Capps Legerton of Asheville, NC and his spouse, Katharine R. Meacham, their two children-Wendy Meacham Legerton (Dave Love), Hannah Meacham Legerton (William High), all of Asheville, and their families.
Fitz Legerton is also survived by his sister-in-law, Mitzi Herrin Legerton and her children, Clarence W. Legerton, III [Chip] and Coleman, Mary Legerton de Luzuriaga and Luis, Gregg McMaster Legerton and Keisha-all of Charleston and Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, and their families. He and Emmy Lou have generations of nieces and nephews and their families.
A memorial service for Fitz will be held on Saturday, March 9, 2024, at 2 PM, at Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church in Swannanoa, North Carolina.
In lieu of flowers, donations would be received with gratitude at any of the three following organizations Fitz supported during his life:
Montreat Conference Center: Office of Development, P.O. Box 969, Montreat, NC 28757 (in memory of Fitz and Emmy Lou Legerton)
Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church: 101 Chapel Lane, Swannanoa, NC 28778 (in memory of Fitz and Emmy Lou Legerton)
The Verner Center for Early Learning: 2586 Riceville Road; Asheville, NC 28805 (in memory of Fitz and Emmy Lou Legerton)
A lean and elegant writer, Fitz crafted not only sermons for almost half a century, but also insightful letters to editors, to friends and family, and to congregants; he wrote columns in the North DeKalb Record for six years, and he contributed to the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. He was as apt to quote Thomas Hardy or William Butler Yeats as he was to quote scripture. In one newspaper column, he reminds the readers that God’s comfort gives strength to bear burdens:
“God does not coddle us when he comforts us. Nor is God’s comfort an anaesthetic that dulls us to pain. It is no spiritual sedative, no paregoric: such would not only dull us to pain, but also to joy. The word “comfort” means “with strength.” God gives us strength to bear the burden or meet the challenge. Life loses its tyrannies-fear, worry, responsibility-and we face it with a quiet comfort.”
Fitz died with a calm expression on his face, lying with composure on his bed, robe neatly tied, socks on, phone, glasses and reading material within reach-the appearance of quiet comfort.