Thomas E. Pitts

September 6, 1924 ~ December 14, 2020 (age 96)


Thomas Edgar Pitts died on December 14, 2020, at the age of 96.  Tom was born on September 6, 1924 on a kitchen table in Pawtuxet Village, Rhode Island.  He was a late arrival for his parents, George James Pitts and Etna Rebecca (MacAfee) Pitts.  His older brothers, Arthur Simmons and George Byron, had been born ten and twelve years earlier.  Tom grew up on Congress Ave. in Providence and walked or took the trolley to area schools.  He won the state fencing title while attending Classical High School.  He and his father, a shop teacher at Gilbert Stuart Junior High, built a house together on a farm in Lincoln.  

Shortly after matriculating at Brown University Tom enlisted in the armed forces to fight the Nazis and Imperial Japanese.  As a B-24 pilot with the 492 Bomber Group of the 8th Air Force, Tom piloted numerous missions over Germany.  Later in the war he provided direct support to the Norwegian underground by dropping supplies, weapons, and saboteurs into the country.  On the day that WW II ended he was ordered to Trondheim to prevent revenge killings of German soldiers by freed Norwegian POWs.  He instead found a celebration and shared schnapps, lutefisk, gifts and recognition with his joyful underground compatriots.  Tom downplayed his military service, saying “I always felt like I was just driving a bus – except when they were shooting at me.”  He recalled being on leave in Rhode Island when the Pacific war ended by saying, “I kissed a lot of girls on Weybosset Street that day.”

Tom reenrolled at Brown after the war.  On New Year’s Eve 1945-6 he partied with friends at the Flagstaff Room atop Providence’s Biltmore Hotel.  Constance Mary Gordon was there as well, celebrating her first New Year’s Eve with her family since her brother, Keith, returned from war.  Tom drove Connie home early on New Year’s morning and visited her every day until they were married nine months later. 

By 1948 Tom had a degree from Brown and an infant son, Thomas Edgar Jr.   He began his mechanical engineering career with Linde Air Products in Buffalo, New York, and then at IBM in Hyde Park, New York.  By 1954 he had figured out that the invention of the transistor would make mechanical engineers obsolete in the computing industry.  He drove Connie, Tom Jr. and newly arrived son Bruce back to Rhode Island where he took a job at the Universal Winding Company.  During his long career there (and with its successor Leesona Corporation) he designed a shoulder-mounted recoilless anti-tank gun, coilers used by the Ford Motor Company to make automobile horns, and advanced yarn winding machines.  In mid-career he became chief engineer at Mount Hope Manufacturing where he adapted to denim manufacture the adjustable bowed rollers used in paper production.  This proved to be an inexpensive way to make denim hold its shape and energized its use as a practical designer fabric. Tom and Connie retired to their “designed by Tom” Touisset Point home in Warren when he was seventy-two.  

Tom’s work took him on long trips to India, Thailand, Egypt, the American south, and western Europe.  When the kids were grown he was able to bring Connie with him to Japan, Hawaii, and France.  They continued their wanderlust after retirement, usually on boats.  Tom competed in sailing for decades and in tennis well into his eighties.  His only run-ins with the law arose from certain clamming improprieties.  He was a faithful parent, grandparent, and great grandparent, traveling as needed to help those he loved in times of trial.  He was a Boy Scout leader for the entire times his sons were members, leaving fond memories for countless young men.  Most of all Tom liked to invent things.  His characteristic evening pose was sitting in his recliner while ignoring the television, but with graph paper, pencil and slide-rule on his lap, drawing parts for whatever machine he was imagining at the time.  Tom lost Connie in 2001 after 55 years of marriage.

Tom was grateful to his friends and caregivers at Atria Bay Spring Village, Barrington, and the Hattie Ide Chaffee Home, East Providence, where he had lived and recovered from illnesses since 2013.  His mind was always sharp, and his unmistakable laugh echoed through the halls until the very end.

Tom is survived by his sons Thomas Edgar (Sondra) Pitts, Jr. of Cranston, RI, and Bruce Gordon (Ryn) Pitts of Bel Air, MD; two grandchildren Shanna Lee (Jaclyn) Treveloni of Cumberland RI, and Patrick Casey (Amit Sabnis) Pitts of San Francisco, CA; and a step-grandchild Amber Moen Olig of Baltimore MD.  He is also survived by great grandchildren Jacob and Alexandra Treveloni, and by step-great grandchildren Lillian, Phoebe, and Nathaniel Taylor.  Tom was preceded in death by his wife, his parents, and his brothers, all noted above, and by his late-in-life fiancee, Sally-Ann Johnson.

Due to pandemic restrictions his funeral service and burial will be for the immediate family only.  In lieu of flowers donation’s in Tom’s memory may be made to the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, 12 Sanderson Rd., Smithfield, RI 02917, or to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, 200 Niantic Ave., Providence, RI 02907.  


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