By Bill Sterling Special to the Eastern Shore Post
Arthur King Fisher, the consummate wordsmith who combined a deep scholarly interest with a great wit, died April 10 in Davidson, N.C. Fisher, 84, had spent most of his life on the Eastern Shore until he and his beloved wife of 47 years, the former Rachel Hall, moved to North Carolina four years ago to be close to their daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren.
“Art was a great historian who had a real interest in people,” said his good friend George McMath. “He was very humble and never used his knowledge to embarrass anyone but to enlighten others.”
I first met Fisher not long after I joined the Eastern Shore News in 1974. At that time, the newspaper was composed at the Eastern Shore Printers in Onancock. I would notice when I was there putting the finishing touches on the sports pages that Fisher would often enter the back room and leave an envelope. I always read a weekly column in the News under the pseudonym “Kyle Redden.” I enjoyed it and wondered who was the writer of this column that touched upon various interesting topics, but often the use of language.
One day when Fisher was leaving after depositing an envelope, I turned to the editor and asked, “Is Mr. Fisher Kyle Redden?” He smiled and nodded, saying, “But it is a secret we need to keep within the office.”
It is a secret I have kept all these years but once shared with him. He explained he preferred remaining anonymous writing the column since he was in public office. I often had contact with Fisher in the years following in his roles as assistant and acting superintendent of Accomack County Schools, and later as county administrator for Accomack County, and eventually as a teacher to one of my children. I also was fortunate to count him as a friend, not as a close friend but one whom I always enjoyed meeting and sharing a bit of conversation. You always learned something when you talked with Art, as many called him.
Fisher Accomplished Much, But Loved Teaching Most
Fisher earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree from The College of William & Mary and a Master’s Degree in school administration from the University of Virginia. He also served with the National Guard in Kentucky and Texas before returning to his native Eastern Shore. He worked for a brief period as a stockbroker.
The son of the late Herman King Fisher and the late Arintha (Sally) Justice Fisher, he was a member of the 12th generation from this area. He was proud of his heritage and wrote three books about the Eastern Shore: “Eastern Shore Wordbook,” “Entertaining Words from the Eastern Shore,” and “Comical and Curious Tales from the Eastern Shore.”
He was also renowned as a historian of his hometown of Parksley, where he was raised and lived until the move to North Carolina. Fisher was often quoted in stories about the town. McMath recalls him giving talks dressed in late 19th-century garb and playing the role of Henry Bennett, one of the founders of Parksley.
For all he accomplished in administration both in education and government, the role Fisher enjoyed most, however, was as a classroom teacher.
He began his teaching career at Onancock High School in 1959 and ended his working life in 2007 after teaching English for 11 years at Broadwater Academy. He also served as principal of Bloxom School. And his students, both early and late in his career, remember him fondly.
Kim Miles, a 1964 graduate of Onancock High School, said, “I was always fascinated by his name, ‘Arthur King,’ and remember him as being a calm, understated man with a permanent small smile. I always thought of him as someone to emulate,” said Miles, who eventually became a Phi Beta Kappa student and winner of two national scholar-athlete awards at Trinity College before embarking on a distinguished career in public service.
Miles added, “He was one of the first to welcome me back to the Shore in 2008, coming down to the farm to say hello. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word, always dapper and considerate.”
Buck Boggs, a 1965 Onancock graduate, recalled Fisher as a teacher who changed the direction of his life. “He was an exemplary teacher with a great sense of humor. As a ninth-grade student, I was a mess. I didn’t care about schoolwork at all. Mr. Fisher taught a world geography class that included students from all grades. He inspired me to turn my attitude around,” said Boggs, who later became a history and geography teacher.
Spen Custis, a 2000 graduate of Broadwater, recalled Fisher’s dry sense of humor. “He would make a comment, and there was a slight pause before you realized it was a joke and a good one. He had that deep belly laugh. I was in both his English and economics class, and it was that economics class that inspired me to major in managerial economics at Hamden-Sydney,” said Custis, now a market manager at Eastwood Homes in Richmond.
Dennis Custis, a longtime Accomack County history teacher and former principal of Nandua High School, was never in Fisher’s classroom but knew him well. “Arthur King Fisher was a gentleman-scholar whose administrative leadership was essential to Accomack County teachers and students in the 1970s,” said Custis. “His life-long interest and knowledge of the history of the Eastern Shore was a treasure which he willingly shared.”
A Family Man First
McMath noted that although Fisher was definitely the scholarly type, somewhat reserved with even close friends, he was an extremely loving husband to his wife Rachel, was very proud of his daughter Susanna and her husband Rob and adored his three grandchildren.
“I was surprised, shocked really, when Art told me he was leaving the Shore to be near his daughter and grandchildren because few people love this place more than he does. But you could sense how badly he wanted to be near those grandchildren,” said McMath. “He really relished being a grandfather.”
Fisher’s daughter, Susanna Fisher Parker, recalled her father reading the encyclopedia and the dictionary to her in addition to bedtime stories when she was a child. “Sometimes he would ask me to suggest a topic, and he would weave this wonderful story from a single word I gave him,” said Parker.
Parker worked as an attorney for the National Mediation Board in Washington, D.C., for 14 years and is now associate general counsel and director of government relations for Data Driven Safety LLC in Huntersville, N.C. She also has a private mediation practice, Parker Mediations. Her husband is an IT manager.
Despite her business success, Parker is equally proud she serves on the boards of three nonprofit organizations that promote the arts and theater. “Dad always taught me the importance of giving back to the community,” said Parker. “It was something he always stressed.”
Fisher spent much time in retirement serving his community on four boards: the Electoral Board of Accomack County, the Library Board, the Vestry of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, and the Cemetery Society of Metompkin District. Fisher also founded the Town of Parksley Revitalization Committee to help bring business back to Parksley and was the first 911 commissioner of the Eastern Shore.
Parker said her father had a life-long love of words. “He started writing at an early age and published a newspaper, Parksley Parrot, when he was just 10 years old. He used a Hectograph to make and circulate copies of the paper around town.”
Parker also said her father wrote free-verse poetry throughout his life. “I have books full of his poems,” said Fisher, adding her father’s final book, “Lincoln’s Guest,” will be published posthumously.
To his three grandchildren, Stephen Anders Parker, 12, Caroline Elizabeth Parker, 9, and Robert Reid Parker, 6, Fisher was known as “Dodgy.”
“I know he missed seeing his friends on the Eastern Shore, but he loved being with his grandchildren and never missed an opportunity to be with them,” said Parker. “He enjoyed taking them to the beach. Even in his 80s, he could beat them at putt-putt golf. Then, usually he would go buy them all ice cream.”
A few days after Fisher’s death, the family set up a croquet game to play in his memory. “As a Southern gentleman, you might imagine how much he loved that as well,” said Parker.
In the past few months when Fisher’s health was declining, old friends from the Shore got in touch with him.
Pat Bloxom, who with her husband Bob, often spent time with Fisher, said, “Art was a longtime friend of ours. He was always so interesting to be with and usually had something fun to add to the conversation.”
Pat noted that she and her husband talked by phone to Fisher in February, and the two men started recalling their youth when they visited relatives in Cape Charles. “I found out Bob learned to swim from one of Art’s uncles,” said Pat. “I never knew that before.”
In a recent letter to Fisher, McMath wrote, “Throughout the years there have been so many good times which have given me the opportunity of observing a man of the highest character, always wearing the mantle of a true Virginia gentleman. You indeed have lived, and continue to live, an extraordinary life, a life worthy of emulating.”
A memorial service will be held at a future time and a private interment is being held in the Fisher Plot in Parksley Cemetery today.
Services were conducted by Williams Funeral Home, Parksley.
The Eastern Shore Post is the only locally owned newspaper on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. It is published each Friday and 12,000 copies are distributed free to readers at hundreds of locations from Pocomoke, Md., and Chincoteague, Va., to Cape Charles, Va. It is posted online Thursday evening, usually by 6:30 p.m. We are in the Four Corner Plaza at 25248 Lankford Highway, Onley. Mailing address is P.O. Box 517, Onley, VA 23418