Eight Bells: Oliver Lee Pitts

Published on March 24th, 2020

Oliver Lee “O.L.” Pitts passed away peacefully at his home on March 19, four days before his 104th birthday, in Fort Worth, TX.

A longtime Fort Worth businessman and internationally known sailor, Pitts was in the nursing home business for many years. He had also been in the oil business, the real estate business, the construction business, and the design business.

He owned Citizens National Bank in Weatherford for many years and for 25 years he owned and operated America’s oldest restaurant and tavern, the legendary White Horse Tavern in Newport, Rhode Island, which he sold in 2006, shortly before turning 90.

Through it all, Pitts, an active member of Fort Worth Boat Club on Eagle Mountain Lake, raced sailboats all over the world and became one of the world’s biggest supporters and promoters of the America’s Cup sailing competition.

Beginning in 1964, he led syndicates that supported several Cup defenders and challengers, including Courageous, the boat Ted Turner raced to victory in 1977. Pitts was involved in campaigns until the early 1990s.

When Australia II won in 1983 and took the Cup away from the United States for the first time in 132 years, Pitts and a lot of the top business people from Fort Worth started the America II Syndicate challenges to bring the America’s Cup home.

Pitts said he made 15 round trips to Australia in the two years leading up to the 1987 races in Perth, purchasing a condo there and staying for months at a time to help provide everything needed to challenge Australia and win the Cup back, which the United States did with Stars and Stripes in 1987.

Pitts has been hooked on sailing since the day he bought his first sailboat – a 15 ½-foot used wooden Snipe in the summer of 1936.

For most of his life, he has raced all kinds of small boats – Snipes and Seagulls and Lightnings, a Newport 30 and his last boat, “Paki II,” a Santana 35, winning weekend regattas mostly on small lakes throughout Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida, and Oklahoma.

He said he loved “the speed and the wind and the water rushing by” and has never crewed but always been at the helm on the low side of his boats to be as close to the water as possible.

“Sailing is not a rich man’s sport,” he contended. “Anybody can afford to sail a small boat and have a lot of fun doing it, but the bigger the boat, the bigger the crew, and the more people you have on the boat, the more fun it is. You’re only as good as your crew, but the better racer you are, the better the racers who want to crew for you. Everybody wants to be on the fastest boat.”

And, boats, especially the old wooden boats, required a lot of sanding and varnishing to keep them at their fastest.

“In the old days, boats were made of wood, and you had to do a lot of work on them to keep competitive. If I wasn’t racing, I was working on a boat,” Pitts recalled. “I just got a kick out of it. You meet a lot of good guys sailing. I never met a sailor I couldn’t put up with.”

He was the beloved husband of Norma Palumbo Pitts and Berniece Nichols Pitts, who preceded him in death, along with his mother, Maggie Pitts Smith, and sister, Vera Pitts Salvato.

He leaves his loving daughter, Pamela and husband, Kent McIntosh; grandchildren and spouses, Kimberly and Anthony Chaumont, Kevin and Kristi McIntosh, Ryan and Erin McIntosh, Ashley and Sean Lockovich; and eight great-grandchildren.

FUNERAL: On hold at this time.
MEMORIALS: In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations in O.L.’s memory be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 262 Danny’s Place, Memphis, TN 38105.

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