Joseph Stanley Zitz
August 5, 1932 – September 26, 2019
He never aspired to a military career.
What he truly wanted to be was a newspaperman.
Stan Zitz of Stafford County died on Sept. 26 at Mary Washington Hospital. He was 87.
His journalism dream expired when he was only 21 and his first son was born. He realized he couldn’t support a family on a fledgling reporter’s salary. As the years passed, he never spoke of it. Whether it was nature or nurture, his eldest son Mike was himself drawn to the newspaper business, having no idea about his father’s sacrifice, and wrote for The Free Lance-Star for years.
Stan loved his family, baseball, pets and salty snacks, son Joseph cracked. The order of intensity in those passions may have varied in the even years of 2010, 2012, and 2014, when his beloved San Francisco Giants won the World Series, but seemed to revert in odd years. He was a basketball star at Stafford High School and a middling baseball player. He would have been happier if it had been the other way around.
He was offered a basketball scholarship at another college, but at the urging of a mother whose family fought for the South in the Civil War, chose to put himself through the Virginia Military Institute.
All the while, he seemed born to be a newspaperman. At VMI he was first sports editor, then managing editor of the student newspaper and president of the Virginia Intercollegiate Press Association. As a college kid he had an article he wrote for the student newspaper picked up by the Associated Press, a rare accomplishment for a student and clear evidence of his promise. Still, he gave up his dream for his young family with neither resentment nor complaint.
As a career U.S. Army officer, he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, served his country in Korea and Germany at the height of the Cold War and in Vietnam during the fighting there.
He was awarded the bronze star. After being injured in battle in Vietnam, he was eligible for a Purple Heart, but declined to apply for it.
At one point during the ‘60s, the less than eager young officer found himself being trained for potential decisions about deploying tactical nukes on the battlefield.
Then, in Vietnam, he was regularly flown in helicopters at treetop level to decide whether strikes should be called in. He was terrified by the necessity to fly low and fast to avoid enemy fire, perched in an open doorway, but had to decide in a relatively low-tech era whether people on the ground were farmers or Viet Cong.
He was a man of integrity. A promotion was delayed for years when he wrote a frank report on readiness that angered his commanding officer. Under pressure, he refused to back down.
He also never backed down in his attitudes on civil rights and equality for women that were ahead of their time, especially for a white man raised in the South by parents who didn't share those views.
As a 1955 graduate of VMI he argued in favor of admission for women decades before the first female students were allowed to enter in 1997.
Despite his upbringing, he was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 while his own contemporaries snorted at the idea a black man becoming president.
Even when his children were young he respected their divergent opinions and encouraged them to talk about politics and world affairs at the dinner table, listening to them as though they were adults. He happily raised liberals, moderates and conservatives. Some of his happiest moments were spent coaching baseball in Stafford. Decades later, the now grown men he once helped still refer to him as “Coach Zitz.” He was preceded in death by his parents, Joseph A. Zitz and Elena Beckham Zitz, and his brother, Johnny Zitz.
He is survived by his loving and devoted wife, Norma Robinson Zitz, six children, Mike Zitz, Rob Zitz, Jon Zitz, Laura Copley, Joseph Zitz and James Zitz, three nephews, 10 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
Son Mike was the newspaperman and a published author who went on to help first- generation college students get a hand up at Germanna Community College.
Rob became a senior executive in the U.S. Intelligence Community and the Department of Homeland Security. He mentors young people about career opportunities and has supported disadvantaged students in achieving their dreams.
Jon has helped hundreds of people, including many with disabilities, find jobs as the manager of an employment agency connected to Goodwill.
Laura became a regional manager of retail sales and training, helping many young people get started in careers.
Joseph became Director of Strategic Accounts at a marketing and location data analysis company focusing on helping communities boost tourism.
James became a regionally known and respected chef.
Laura and Mike both have played roles in organizing and running local and state baseball leagues and coaching and mentoring hundreds of children over years of volunteerism.
Stan was proud of all of them.
No, he didn’t do what he dreamed of doing.
He did something better.
He made sacrifices for both his family and his country, then he saw his children do everything he ever dreamed of.
Funeral services will be private. In lieu of flowers, please donate to the animal or veterans’ charity of your choice.