Hugh “Sunny” Asa Fitzsimons III, a soft-spoken South Texas rancher whose love of the land and conservation, prehistory and history, and his own family’s unresolved tensions led to a searing 2018 family memoir, died at home May 16 after a battle with esophageal cancer. He was 67.
His father, Hugh “Pappy” Asa Fitzsimons Jr., died only one month ago on April 17 at 91.
Fitzsimons, who earned an undergraduate degree from Trinity University and a graduate degree from the University of Texas at San Antonio, was a lifelong learner, a quiet man with cowboy boots on his feet in the city and a book in his hand at the ranch, always thirsty for a good conversation. He kept one foot in San Antonio’s literary world and taught history at various times at St. Mary’s Hall. But he reserved his deepest feelings for his own family and the SHAPE Ranch in Dimmitt County, his share of the Fitzsimons’ family’s San Pedro Ranch, eventually divided along lines that also traced familial fractures.
Fitzsimons made a study of habitat restoration and became active in water conservation in Dimmitt County, where fracking on his and surrounding ranches threatened to deplete and contaminate the underground water supply. Yet as he wryly noted in a conversation we had at the time of his book publication, “I have yet to meet the rancher who turns down mineral money, including myself.”
That book, A Rock Between Two Rivers: Fracturing A Texas Family Ranch, was published In November 2018 by Trinity University Press. It received rave reviews for its writing and evocative appreciation of life and survival in the harsh Brush Country reaching down to the Texas-Mexico border. Fitzsimons was a featured regional writer at the 2019 San Antonio Book Festival.
Read my book review here: A South Texas Rancher’s Lament: A Rock Between Two Rivers
“When I first met Hugh, I was struck by his bright flame of creativity,” said Barbara Ras, poet and founding director emerita of Trinity University Press, who encouraged and helped Fitzsimons along the way to writing his memoir.
“He expressed that energy in a multitude of ways, but we shared it most powerfully in his desire to channel it to words on the page,” Ras said. “His writing arrived as a thunderclap in his book A Rock Between Two Rivers, an intimate and poetic portrait of a third-generation Texas rancher. Beyond that, I would have to quote tearfully a thesaurus of loving adjectives that would begin with funny, generous, kind, knowing, sweet, and that would then maybe go on forever.”
Those who might not recognize the prominent Fitzsimons family name, might recognize his two businesses, Thunder Heart Bison and Native Nectar Guajillo Honey.
Fitzsimons also served as a past executive director for the Rock Art Foundation at the Witte Museum, which has documented and preserved Native American rock art painted and chiseled thousands of years ago in the Lower Pecos Canyonlands.
Fitzsimons’ obituary published on the Porter-Loring Mortuaries website states that he was preceded in death by his father and his mother, Lolly Negley. He is survived by his wife, Sarah; his sons, Asa Fitzsimons and Patrick Fitzsimons; his daughter, Evelyn Clark, and her husband, Matt Clark; and grandchildren Leo and Sarah Clark, stepmother Andrea Fitzsimons, brother Joseph Fitzsimons, and sister Pamela Howard, along with many nieces and nephews.
The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Environment Texas and the San Antonio Food Bank. The family will hold a private service. A memorial service will be livestreamed here on Friday, May 21, at 11:00 am.