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An Episcopal, co-educational 100% boarding school in Middletown, Delaware for grades 9 – 12

Andrew Fairfield ’61


The Rt. Rev. Andrew Hedtler Fairfield died peacefully at home in Shutesbury, Massachusetts on February 16, 2020. He was sitting in his chair reading a book, waiting to go to church. He’d just brought in a load of wood for the fire

Andy was born on May 31, 1943, in Northampton, Massachusetts, the second son of the Rev. Leslie Lindsey Fairfield and Mary Allerton Parke Fairfield. He spent some of his early years in China, where his parents served as missionaries with the Episcopal Church. Because of the Communist Revolution, in 1948 the family was evacuated from China, and came back to Amherst, Massachusetts, where they lived for a while with his maternal grandparents in the “Emily Dickinson House,” which the family had purchased in 1915. In Amherst, 5-year-old Andy rode his bicycle all over town, making friends at the fire station and a local bike shop.

Andy first went to Alaska as a church volunteer in 1963, after his sophomore year at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He kept going back because he knew Alaska was exactly where he wanted to be. In the summer of 1967, before his last year of seminary in Berkeley, California, he directed a day camp for the children of migrant laborers in Washington State. Two very important things happened that summer: he met Sarah Jane McCune, to whom he would be married for more than fifty-one years, and he learned how to fly a small airplane.

Andy and Sally wed the next summer, in Wilmington, Delaware. After a honeymoon in Maine at his beloved childhood summer camp, they left for Alaska. First assigned to three small villages on the Lower Yukon River, they lived in Shageluk, without running water or electricity. Their daughter Bess was born in 1971, and the family moved to Fort Yukon, where he served as the priest for St. Stephen’s Church for five years. Daughter Hannah was born in 1974. In 1977, they moved to Fairbanks, and Andy became assistant to the bishop of Alaska. His focus was supporting Alaska’s Indigenous people in church leadership roles, not just as active leaders in their own communities but in representing Native people on a diocesan and national level, and in the wider Anglican Communion.

He flew a small airplane around the Interior and up to the Arctic Coast with his close friend the Rev. Scott Fisher, teaching and holding church services. The Native people of Alaska, especially the elders in the villages he served and lived in, taught him about the importance of community. People hunted and fished and picked berries, and shared it all. They built cabins together, and supported one another through all the stages of life. The time spent participating in these activities and visiting with people in their homes, drinking tea and listening to stories, helped him feel and share the power of God’s love. The care and responsibility that Alaska Native people show for each other and for outsiders, and the respect they show for the land, deeply informed his sense of how he wanted to live his life.

In 1989, he was elected the 10th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota. He continued to fly for many years, which allowed him to frequently spend time with Indigenous people in the Dakotas and the people in farming communities in rural parts of the state. He was grateful for the time he had as a pilot; he logged more than 5,000 hours in the air over thirty years, without any crashes. He retired as the Bishop of North Dakota in 2003.

Andy and Sally moved to Shutesbury, Massachusetts, to a farmhouse on 10 acres of woods that had been in the family for many years. In retirement, he joined the Anglican Church in North America.

In Shutesbury, he liked to ride his bike, repair old bikes and give them to people who needed them, chop and haul wood, and grow tomatoes and squash, peppers and pumpkins. He enjoyed going on bike trips in Northern Maine and Quebec because that area reminded him of Alaska; he would haul his gear and camp along the way. He loved visiting his daughters’ families in Virginia and Maine. He especially delighted in being a grandpa, holding his granddaughters as babies, fitting them with bikes and helmets, attending their plays and concerts and sporting events. He treasured his sons-in-law, and his dog, Ezra. When he got homesick for Alaska, which was often, he watched videos of Eskimo dancing in communities he cherished on the Arctic Coast.

Andy was a kind and gentle man, loyal to and fiercely protective of those he loved. And he loved so many. He was preceded in death by his brother Tim. He is survived by his brothers Les, John, and Peter; his wife, Sally; daughters Bess and Hannah, sons-in-law Stew and Steven, and his four granddaughters: Maggie, Luella, Sally, and Sadie.

A service will be held at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, February 19th, 2020 at Shutesbury Community Church, followed by a potluck tea. In lieu of flowers, please consider two local organizations that Andy volunteered with: Village Neighbors and Not Bread Alone.