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We've all done it - that hopeful Google search for Fitzhenry, 1000 hits...but disappointment as 998 relate to books published by our friends in Canada, Fitzhenry & Whiteside. Frustration, annoyance - but lately, curiosity. Who are these Canadian Fitzhenrys? Where do they come from? I decided to see if I could discover anything about the founders of this iconic Canadian publishing house.
It was easy to discover through their own website that Fitzhenry and Whiteside was founded by two real people named - surprisingly enough - R I. Fitzhenry and C L Whiteside.
What surprised me greatly though was that Robert Irvine Fitzhenry, co-founder of this proudly Canadian company, was in fact - an American!! Yes!! South of the border!! Could this be another descendant of the prolific Enoch you ask?? Read on dear reader!!
Robert Irvine Fitzhenry was the (apparently) only son of Irvine and Margaret Fitzhenry, and the older brother of Margaret. He was born in 1918 in New York, spending his early and formative years in Westchester and New Rochelle. He attended New Rochelle High school, and after completion of those studies went onto to 4 years of study at the University of Michigan. However, on completing these studies Robert made an early decision to join the US military. He enlisted on 20 February 1941 almost 10 months before the bombing of Pearl Harbour, which brought America into the war. This act suggests a man able to see the way world events were playing out, as well as a man prepared to act in accord with his own convictions - a trait still in evidence 20 years later when he co founded Fitzhenry and Whiteside.
At the end of WW2 Robert had attained the rank of Lieutenant having served with the Army Air Corps. After leaving the Army Air Corps, Robert worked for a short time with United Press, before joining the editorial staff of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver Colarado (Clearly a real Fitzhenry...travel didn't seem to phase him at all !!) In 1949 he returned to his home town to marry Hilda Anderson, a former student of New Rochelle High school, who after completing her own college education, began a career on Wall Street. Was Robert a little non conventional even then? His wedding took place at Hilda's parents home, not the Methodist church as would have been the more common practice. After marrying, the couple moved to Chicago Illinois, but by the mid 1950s they were back in New York. They had 3 daughters, Sharon, Bridget (now deceased) and Hollister (aka Holly), By 1966 Robert had risen to Vice President of Sales for Harper and Rowe a large New York based publishing house. However, it was also at this time that Robert (and his colleague Cecil Whiteside) had made the decision to emmigrate to Canada to set up their own publishing house. On April 1 1966 Fitzhenry and Whiteside was born. Most thought they were crazy and doomed to failure- so much so that their company emblem is the Godwit, a Canadian bird whose distictive cry is most often described as sounding like 'Crazy, crazy crazy....correct, correct, correct'. Whilst they certainly started small, they have over time garnered an impressive position within Canadian publishing. Their site (www.fitzhenry.ca) has a photo of Robert and Cecil, and gives a sense of their relaxed and happy approach to work (have a look at the 'About Us' page and see the photos of the editorial team !!)
Just as it will come to us all, Hilda passed away in February 2007, and Robert (who had had a couple of strokes previously) passed away January 2008, a sadly missed icon of Canadian publishing .
But wait a minute... what about that Enoch connection I hear you ask??
Well..... Robert was the son of New York born parents, Irvine Fitzhenry. a clock salesman, and Margaret (nee Lowe/Loue/Lawe very hard to read that entry, so I stand to be corrected on the spelling of Margaret's maiden name!). He had at least two aunts from his mother's side, Helen and Hazel.
But here's the interesting part - in the 1920 US census Robert's father, Irvine, states that both of his own parents were .....Irish! Yep, Robert was the grandson of Irish immigrants...no Enoch link to this Fitzhenry family.
In the 1900 US census. Irvin (sic) Fitzhenry aged 23 salesman born New York is living with his mother Annie and stepfather Samuel Johnson. Annie states she is Irish, has been married to Samuel for 4 years and has had 2 children, both of whom are living. Try as I may I was unable to locate Annie (born c 1858) and her first husband in any earlier census's, so Irvine's father is still a mystery. We can say with some certainly however that his parents were Irishman Mr Fitzhenry and Irish woman Annie Fitzhenry
So next time the search throws up Fitzhenry and Whiteside, know that this (sometimes annoying) little company reflects the story of real people, of Fitzhenry immigrants whose dreams of a better life were realised in the lives of their son and grandson.