Ruth Coder Fitzgerald
Ruth Coder Fitzgerald may have started the Local Authors Project for the Friends of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, but she is an accomplished author in her own right.
Since her move to Fredericksburg in 1968, she's been a member of various organizations in the area. These include the Sierra Club, Friends of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, and various historical groups. She began the project in 1983 to highlight the work of local authors, past and present. After recognizing an abundance of authors in the area, mostly local historians, she wanted to give residents a "feel for the different authors who lived in the area," which includes anyone who was born or lived here and has published work.
Her focus on community has extended into her writing. Her most acclaimed work, A Different Story: A Black History of Fredericksburg, Stafford, and Spotsylvania, Virginia published in 1980, chronicles the history of African Americans in the area. It includes personal accounts of slaves and a detailed history of the lives of the local black population. She describes this text as her greatest accomplishment because "it's the most helpful and has done the most good. One thing I get tickled about is that I'm footnoted in a lot of books."
Fitzgerald began her book after someone mentioned that there should be a record of black history in the area. "I had some important connections in the black community and with all the Civil War and Colonial history here, there turned out to be a large amount of information. And nothing like that had ever been done before," she said. The text is currently out of print, but is available at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library's headquarters in downtown Fredericksburg. Her book will be reprinted in 2003.
Fitzgerald's interest in writing was sparked by her father, Norman K. Coder, a journalist. A native of the Midwest, she graduated from the University of Missouri, School of Journalism in 1966. "Maybe it's the same with other degrees, but when you have a journalism degree, you have a skill. You can write logical sentences, which is a trade often taken for granted. And I really like doing research, too."
Before moving to Fredericksburg, Fitzgerald and her husband, Barry, joined the Peace Corps and volunteered in the Republic of the Philippines. "In the Peace Corps, my husband and I gained this philosophy of working in the community and trying to make changes for the better." This philosophy led to her active participation in multiple organizations throughout the years.
However, Fitzgerald has curtailed her community involvement so that she can devote more time to another project. For almost ten years she's been working on the Vietnam War Memorial In-Memory Project. In 1992, her brother, John K. Coder, died from cancer, which he developed from exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. In May of 1993, Fitzgerald attended the first In-Memory Ceremony at the Vietnam War Memorial, the Wall, in Washington, D.C. It was there that she realized there needed to be something to commemorate the post-war combat-related deaths of veterans.
She gathered a group of people interested in commemorating their loved ones who passed away after the Vietnam War. Together, they decided to design a plaque because they wanted a permanent memorial for the veterans who died. They depended on publicity and word of mouth for spreading the word about the plaque. "There are still lots of people who have lost family or friends due to the Vietnam War who still don't know about the plaque, so we're still trying to spread the word." The plaque reads: ‘IN MEMORY OF THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO SERVED IN THE VIETNAM WAR AND LATER DIED AS A RESULT OF THEIR SERVICE. WE HONOR AND REMEMBER THEIR SACRIFICE.' The plaque will be placed near the Three Servicemen's Statue, near the Wall.
When she began working on the project, in 1995, she would spend eight hours a day talking on the phone with Congressmen, trying to get the addition to the War Memorial approved. "It's taken an awful lot of work on the part of a whole lot of people. We're just grassroots people. We don't have any big connections or big money, so we're relying mostly on fundraising and donations to fund the project." While Congress has approved the project, the group is still seeking necessary funding.
But, this isn't the only project on which Ruth's working. While she continues raising funds and awareness, Fitzgerald dreams of writing another book. She says, "I love to write fiction. No, let me rephrase that. I would love to write fiction and have it published." Currently, Ruth is working on two young adult books, for children 8-12 years old, and a mystery book.
She has this advice for aspiring writers: "If you want to write, then write. If that's what you want to do, then do it. It's sad when someone is 65 and they say that they wish they had been a writer and have never done anything about it."