In memoriam: James R. (Fitzy) Fitzpatrick (1931-2012)

By
Updated: February 27, 2013

Tough love

You know the type.

That tough-as-steel, blue-collar, lunch-pail worker. The one who day in, day out, trudged uphill both ways . . . barefoot in the snow.

He earned his way with hard work because he had to. Nothing was ever given to him. He simply rolled up his sleeves and did what he had to do, especially if he didn’t want to.

Fitzy was that kind of man. More importantly, he was that kind of Grandpa. Especially in his later years.

Back surgeries? Pfft, where’s my can of Coke?

James R. (Fitzy) Fitzpatrick -- (1931-2012)

James R. (Fitzy) Fitzpatrick (1931-2012)

Infection caused by a hospital mistake? Who cares? What channel are the Yankees on?

Great-great-grandchildren wanna play? No problem, give me a minute to move my wheelchair.

It wasn’t the obstacle in his path that got his attention; it was the end result he cared about. While he was a hardcore working man, he was also the most loving of people — though he wasn’t afraid to lay a smackdown when he needed to.

Some people work because they want money; others because they have to. He worked because it’s what he loved to do. To him money wasn’t the most important thing. Not even close.

My cousin once told me a story about the day he showed Fitzy his baseball cards. They were discussing the value of the cards, but Fitzy must have let that go in one ear and out the other, because he just looked at him and held his hands apart like one would do when showing someone how big a fish he had caught.

And he said, “I don’t know much about the value of those cards, but let me tell you, I have everything I could ever want right between these two hands. It’s all the love in the world.”

That’s what he was all about: love, family, and his faith. His house was always — and I mean always – filled with relatives. His favorites were the grandbabies. His house was so full, it felt like a holiday, and holidays were even more crowded. Everyone loved being there, and it wasn’t because of the food or the house itself. It was because of him and my great-grandmother.

Life of love

James Richard Fitzpatrick was born on May 5th, 1931, in Columbus, Ohio, the youngest of 17 children. Living with 19 other people must have prepared him for our family gatherings.

Great-grandpa and great-grandmother Fitzgerald.

Great-grandpa and great-grandmother Fitzpatrick.

As was the custom in those days, he started working young, getting his first job at Cooper Stadium at the tender age of 13. Cooper Stadium was the home of the Columbus Jets (later the Clippers), a Minor League Baseball team that for the longest time was in the New York Yankees farm system. He served as groundskeeper, concessionaire, and ultimately assistant general manager of the team. At one point, he was even offered the full general manager job, but he turned it down because it would have taken him away from the fans.

That’s how he was. He loved being around the fans. He was a people person. It’s what he lived for.

Fitzy also did the hiring for the stadium. One of employees he hired in 1950 was a 15-year-old girl. He married her later that same year on September 23rd. I have early memories of going to Cooper Stadium and hanging out with them in the concession area, walking around the entire stadium, watching the games from wherever I pleased. I’m not a baseball fan per se, but I enjoy seeing any sports live, and there’s no denying the atmosphere of a baseball game.

He ended up working at Cooper for 55 years and was privileged to see some of the greats play, many of whom went on to have lucrative careers in the major leagues: Steve Balboni, Marshall Brant, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and one obscure guy by the name of Deion Sanders (they used to go out for drinks a lot). During his time, the Clippers won six championships. Fifteen members of the ’98 Clippers squad played for the World Champion Yankees.

My great-grandmother may have been his best hire, but he also hired someone else who would grow close to him. He was a 12-year-old concessionaire by the name of Lawrence Funderburke. Funderburke ended up playing basketball at Ohio State and then in the NBA with the Sacramento Kings (1997-2004) and Chicago Bulls (2005).

He attended Fitzy’s funeral and . He told us that he had had no father figure when he was young. Fitzy became that father figure, a position Fitzy held with pride. He helped Lawrence stay out of trouble, and when the time came, he dropped Lawrence’s name at many universities, ultimately helping him get into OSU.

The great thing about Fitzy wasn’t that he played a major part in an NBA player’s story. It was that he helped a young boy become what many people can only dream of. Money and fame didn’t interest Fitzy; love did.

Team signed Kings basketball given to Fitzy from Laurence

The team-signed Sacramento Kings basketball given to Fitzy from Lawrence Funderburke.

In 2005, Fitzy was inducted into the Columbus Baseball Hall of Fame in recognition of his many years of service.

Many back surgeries and physical ailments took their toll on Fitzy the last few years of his life. On October 30th, 2012, in the comfort of his own home, he died peacefully in his sleep. He must have known it was time, because before he fell asleep he pulled my great-grandmother aside and told her how much he loved her. He left no stone unturned and no end loose.

Remembering Fitzy

The funeral — both the viewing and the actual ceremony — was a fitting memorial for a most memorable man.

It wasn’t the usual sob-soaked site of mourning. No, Fitzy’s casket was filled with Clippers memorabilia, and a Snickers bar lay in his hand. (He had always loved him some Snickers.) The Yankees even sent flowers for the occasion. Indeed, the atmosphere was much like a typical Fitzpatrick family gathering. Everyone was having a good time. Memories were being shared. Laughter was all around.

Most importantly, Fitzy’s grandbabies were playing and having fun, something he never would have changed. After the eulogy and sermon, all the grandkids (yes, even I, although I had no idea what was going on), stood up. After one of the younger ones sang a song, all of us mimicked Fitzy’s trademark laugh. Humor is great medicine. I enjoyed that.

One by one, family members stood up to share their memories. A Yankees representative talked about how great working with Fitzy had been. My dad told us that when his own father hadn’t been there for him, Fitzy had been like a father to him, just as he had been for Lawrence. Likewise, Fitzy loved my aunt and uncle as though they were his own children.

No family is perfect, and ours is no exception, but Fitzy loved every one of us, no matter what we might have done. We couldn’t have lost his love had we tried.

My moment

While all these things were being said, I tried my hardest to think of something, anything, to say. I had my memories with him — painting his ceiling, visiting as a child, watching Pittsburgh Steelers and Ohio State Buckeyes games with him — but I couldn’t think of a single memory that everyone else hadn’t shared as well.

Card from the flowers the Yankees sent.

The card from the bouquet the New York Yankees sent.

Then it hit me.

A couple of weeks earlier, my parents and brother had gone to visit him in the hospital. He was lying in a drug-induced sleep, so they were just there to keep him company. But when they came home, my father told me something that I will never forget.

He said that as they stood there talking to him, Fitzy wasn’t reacting to a word they said. That is, until Dad started telling him about the articles I was writing for a certain upstart sports website. Then Fitzy’s heart rate started rising. Somehow, in his subconscious, he was getting excited hearing about me — me! — and the work I was doing.

I was blown away. I had never talked to him about it before. To see how much that meant to him, when normal talk got no reaction all, felt incredible.

That is a big reason why I take my writing seriously and try to do my best for Water Cooler Sports.  While I never shared that story with relatives that night, I didn’t have to. That one’s for me. That’s the one memory he gave me, and I wasn’t even physically there to be a part of it. Amazing.

We all miss you, Fitz. Can’t wait to see you again.

About the author(s)

A native of Ohio, but born and raised a New Orleans Saints fan by a father who has followed the team since the late 1970s, Tyler Norris covers the Saints beat for Water Cooler Sports. He enjoys music, sports, and designing his own line of punk/metal clothing. Feel free to contact him with questions, comments, or appearance requests at . You can also .

171 comments
Johnathan Wood
Johnathan Wood moderator

Stephon Curry had 54 points last night (on 24 shots).  He also had 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals.  

And his team still lost.  

thebaskett
thebaskett

"I couldnt take a pay cut".. Who am I?

Johnathan Wood
Johnathan Wood moderator

JerMichael Finley refuses to take pay cut to stay with GB.  "I’m not that guy."  

Rourke
Rourke

One of the ironies of this site is that it's the articles by our NFCS brethren that get the most likes on Facebook and Google+, yet it's so freaking hard to keep the NFCS folks coming around regularly.

Rourke
Rourke

I had the coolest dream last night. I dreamed I was doing standup in Germany, in German. I love it when I dream in German. I think it would be amazing if I could move a whole audience in a foreign language.

natradamus
natradamus moderator

great article reg

*pours 40 for fitzy*

MIBearFan
MIBearFan

Gotta run. Bowling night, and I have to work tomorrow.

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

We should tweet Kluwe and see if he will come on. I would love to have him as our first guest after our long break from the radio show.

Doctor ϟ Professor ☧
Doctor ϟ Professor ☧ moderator

Sent.


We shall see. It would be nice to get some publicity on a big news level lol.

Johnathan Wood
Johnathan Wood moderator

 you're thebaskett, and you done been scooped

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

 Which is funny, because most GMs think he's overpriced at $8.25M so if he walks like he claims he would, where will he go for his money?

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

Smith could end up getting SF TWO 2nd round picks. Unreal.

natradamus
natradamus moderator

 horrible combination.  in college we used to go to the bowling alley for 50 cent taps-  I do not remember those nights

MIBearFan
MIBearFan

 

One year anniversary is in April? We should go big. A week of articles, and special guests. No?

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

 27 points, 13 assists, 6 rebs, 6 steals + the game winner

Johnathan Wood
Johnathan Wood moderator

 so, like JerMichael Finley, you're a pug

Johnathan Wood
Johnathan Wood moderator

  yep.  no way he gets anything close to $8M/year on the open market. 

Johnathan Wood
Johnathan Wood moderator

 well, that's what Kolb went for, and he's way better than Kolb.  The Chiefs also gave up a 2nd for cassell, I believe.

natradamus
natradamus moderator

  whats new bud?  been a while

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

 That would be pretty cool. It has been so long since I have done s how. I am jonesin for it.

Doctor ϟ Professor ☧
Doctor ϟ Professor ☧ moderator

  


and confetti..


tons.......and tons....of pant-less confetti.



all over our faces.

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  Who is his agent? The guy is a dunce. They both need to be muzzled. I'm so sick of Finley.

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  I'm interested to see what Reid does with Smith. 

Johnathan Wood
Johnathan Wood moderator

  yeah, this was a team that, like Arizona, was really only a QB and OL away.  We'll see if they've got that QB now.  

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  Perhaps. I sort of forgot about the playmakers they have on D. Berry is a stud. I love Charles too. 

Johnathan Wood
Johnathan Wood moderator

  I dunno.  They've got a solid D, some solid receiving weapons, pretty good RB, and now could have a decent QB and solid OL if they get a LT with the first pick.  All of a sudden, this is a legit playoff contender in the (incredibly weak) AFC.

Pat Fenis, Esq.
Pat Fenis, Esq.

  I guess that's the price you pay when you're desperate, but wow. It's not like they're close to winning that division anyway as long as Manning is in Denver. Hang on to the picks and draft a QB in a year or two. 

Doctor ϟ Professor ☧
Doctor ϟ Professor ☧ moderator

  damn. i remember trying to line up primetime games for the Saints when i worked 3rd shift at the warehouse back in 2010.


i just ended up either using paid time off cards i won or i just showed up late lol.


actually opening night vs. the Vikings i was listening to it on my Zune while loading a trailer..


dancing alone in a trailer is interesting lol



He is a House Painter.

natradamus
natradamus moderator

  what kinda work do your do for your pops?

natradamus
natradamus moderator

  I am trying to work out my schedule in the fall so I can catch Monday and thursday night games-  not looking to good

natradamus
natradamus moderator

  my night classes started up again so I am back to the busy ass schedule of teaching the at risk youth

Doctor ϟ Professor ☧
Doctor ϟ Professor ☧ moderator

  


eh same old. working on and off for my dad while looking for an actual job. you know, the new American way haha.


yourself?

natradamus
natradamus moderator

  seriously- this isn't fucking woodstock man

Kuato Face
Kuato Face moderator

  Hrmm. Ah'd rully appersheate it iffin you'd put yer trousers back on.