Elizabeth Cook: Remembering Ada Fisher

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 1, 2023

Something’s missing from our holiday mail this year, the annual letter from Dr. Ada Fisher.

Fisher, who died in October at the age of 74, grew up a preacher’s kid in Durham, the youngest of six children. In true Ada style, she went her own way and converted to Judaism while in medical school.

The holiday season stirred old feelings, and at the end of each year she blended Christmas and Hanukkah by penning a letter to family and friends.

Ada had a lot to say. In addition to her medical career, she had experience as a school board member, a congressional candidate and a Republican National Committeewoman.

Her letters could be long. One typed missive covered two legal-sized sheets of paper, back and front, single-spaced.

Ada overflowed with ideas. She soaked up information and was eager to share what she knew. That included life lessons that are worth repeating.

• • •

I found a few of Ada’s letters in my Christmas card folder a few weeks ago. Knowing I’ll never get another one, those letters seem more precious now.

Ours was more than a passing acquaintance. She submitted guest columns to the Salisbury Post, something that started when I was editor.

Ada would arrive unannounced every so often and sit down to share a stream-of-consciousness discourse on the current political situation. Keeping up with her was a mental workout.

We compared notes on our children, the world and our philosophies, but I think she would admit I mostly listened. Again, she had a lot to say — and a lot to teach.

“Lesson 1,” Ada wrote in her 2004 letter, “No matter what your station in life, if you are not open to being a continual learner, you are out of the game.”

Ada opened my eyes.

She shared stories about growing up in Hayti, the thriving Black community in Durham. Her father, the late Dr. Miles Mark Fisher, was pastor of White Rock Baptist Church there for more than 30 years.

The structure where she worshiped while growing up is gone, demolished in the 1960s to make way for the Durham Freeway. That so-called improvement cut through the heart of Hayti, as urban renewal did in countless Black communities.

Most Black voters may be Democrats now, but Ada pointed out again and again that Black people helped start the Republican Party in North Carolina. She researched and wrote a 32-page booklet called “I Am a Republican” outlining that history.

She was audacious. The 665 pages of her self-published book, “Common Sense Conservative Prescriptions: Solutions for What Ails Us,” outline remedies for everything from pollution to “the Israeli dilemma.”

I have only skimmed my autographed copy. That reminds me of another of Ada’s lessons.

“Lesson 2: Don’t put off for tomorrow things you want to do, for that day and opportunity just might not come. …”

• • •

Accolades for Fisher soared eulogistic heights after her death. She was a standout in more ways than one, a determined advocate for the conservative cause. GOP leaders rightfully praised her work as Republican National Committeewoman for 12 years.

Questioning the status quo came as naturally to her as breathing in and out. She supported Donald Trump’s candidacy from Day One, when others hesitated to own up to it, and she cast North Carolina’s votes for Trump at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

So, yes, Ada Fisher was a star in the Republican firmament.

She remained loyal, even suggesting a few weeks after the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection that President Biden offer Trump a pardon, as Gerald Ford had done for Richard Nixon. Such a magnanimous gesture would signal a desire for the country to move on, Ada wrote in a column.

She was an idealist, but not a blind one.

By late summer she was grieving the promise that Trump once embodied for millions of American voters. In an August 2021 column, she bemoaned his “sometimes overly divisive tone,” his “never-ending victim posture” and, particularly in debates, his “failure to modulate his mouth.”

“Lesson 3: Don’t stay in situations or with people who make you unhappy.”

• • •

The service for Dr. Ada Markita Fisher drew a big crowd and was livestreamed, which is how I heard it as my husband and I were traveling.

Sen. Thom Tillis put his heart into praising her. He was clearly sincere. But the message that rang truest for me came from one of Ada’s nephews.

“Aunt Kita,” as he called her, shortening her middle name, was passionate about three things — faith, family and a good fight.

Bingo! That was the woman who breezed into my office and challenged my brain, the woman who I suspect gave Republicans a hard time, too, from within the ranks. I’ve barely scratched the surface here of all her works and theories and accomplishments. She cared about people and helped them — even tried to match one of my daughters up with a sharp young Republican.

Didn’t happen.

So I’ll wrap this up with the last lines of Lesson 2, her advice about not putting things off.

“… so live each day as if it were your last and go to sleep with as few regrets and unfulfilled dreams as possible.”

I’ll try, Ada. I’ll try.

Shalom, my friend.

Elizabeth G. Cook is former editor of the Salisbury Post.