In Memoriam: Bernard A. Fitzgerald ‘37

By Marianne Gallagher
Marianne Gallagher, a longtime religion teacher at Georgetown Prep, wrote the following tribute to her father, Bernard A. Fitzgerald ’37, who passed away in March 2019.
 
Bernard A. Fitzgerald, M.D. (Gonzaga ’37) died just five months shy of his 100th birthday. He lived a life as full as it was long. Full because he was curious and so life continued to astonish; full because he stayed engaged in the present; full because he kept moving forward; full because he could laugh; full because he was kind and kindness met him in return; full because he was a man of faith.
 
His life was full because he possessed what Ignatius Loyola believed to be the greatest of virtues: gratitude.
 
My father was born and raised at 607 Eye Street. With friends and nicknames that lasted a lifetime, he played stickball; climbed over the fence to skinny dip in the reservoir; put NECCO wafers in the pay phone to make calls; bartered for the core of an apple; snuck into Senators games at Griffith Stadium; wrestled; laughed and told tall tales on street corners. With the police often in pursuit, he and his friends would snag a watermelon from a truck, toss it to the strongest and biggest boy and run down an alley. Harvey, or “Front of the Ship” as he was forever known due to his is sharply creased pants, was the brawn. Smaller in stature, my father, “Peanut” was the brains. Swampoodle shenanigans all the while dodging diphtheria.
 
But it was at 27* Eye Street where he learned the lessons that carried him through life—faith, service, generosity and gratitude.
 
He began high school at St Pauls’ Academy. But, after the first month, his father told him that the undertaker had offered to pay half of his tuition, $7 a month, at Gonzaga. Despite their “no transfer students” policy, Gonzaga admitted him with a warning he would be behind academically. The Headmaster, Father Phillip Clarke tutored him after school. He quickly caught up and earned, attested to by the stack of honors cards I’m looking at now, first or second honors every month while at Gonzaga. As a senior, he was awarded $10 for rating highest on the Province Examinations and $5 and a German history book for honors in German. When my son was inducted into the German Honor Society at Georgetown Prep, he gave him the book but warned him it “stopped at 1937 and some things happened after that.”
 
He was awarded a full scholarship to Catholic University and later to Georgetown Medical School and finished first in his class at both. At Georgetown, he received the prestigious Kober Award for academic excellence. We always thought it was a giant penny that he, for some unknown reason, kept in his sock drawer.
 
The undertaker’s act of generosity made all the difference in my father’s life. Not simply because it set him on a course toward professional success, but because he learned gratitude
for the gifts that came his way: faith, talent, opportunity, vocation, and love.
 
He learned it through the mentoring of Jesuits like Father Anthony Leisner who would organize trips spiritual, historical or whimsical in nature. With his supervision, boys would pile into unreliable cars for treks far from Eye Street—to the ice-cold pool at Blue Ridge Summit, Manresa on the Severn, or Port Tobacco. There was always the obligatory flat tire or empty gas tank.
 
Through letters and visits, my father remained close to Fr. Leisner until Leisner’s death in 1973. He was delighted (and my mother slightly disconcerted) to run into him on a train one Saturday in 1944. He was on the same train my parents had boarded for their honeymoon in New York City.
 
He also met made life-long friends at Gonzaga who left an indelible mark on his character. One of these men was George Hess. He and my father would get together whenever George returned to the United States from India where George lived and worked as a Jesuit priest. Ten years ago, when they were both 90 years old, I took my father to meet George for lunch in Baltimore. It was one of George’s last trips back to the United States.
 
These two men, who sat across from each other in school 75years before, sat across from each again and talked with such ease about their current lives and shared memories. When I look at my own students at Georgetown Prep, I often wonder which ones will be sitting across from each other 75 years from now talking and laughing with equal ease.
 
But more so I wonder which ones will live lives that intersect and impact in a positive way so many others. Father Hess is a hero among Jesuits in India for his work there in the education. My father took a different path. He married and had nine children. At the time of his death, when you count us up, children, grandchildren and great children, we were 58 in total.
 
My father’s faith, nurtured at Gonzaga, taught him about service and medicine was the vocation that empowered him to serve others. His family practice gave him privileged entry into the lives of people in their most vulnerable, fearful, joyous, or sorrowful moments. He always honored that experience. His patients knew it. He was brilliant but humble. You could not go with him anywhere in the Washington metropolitan area without someone coming up to him to remind him he was their doctor. They would thank him for setting their broken arm or for giving the diagnosis that saved their life. He was almost 100 years old, yet he always remembered them, their siblings, their parents, where they lived and the house call he made in the middle of the night. Hearing my father’s car drive off at 2am or return at 5am was not unusual. When he was with a patient at their moment of death, he would step back, change roles, and assist the priest as he anointed the person.
 
A few months before he passed way, as he was sitting down to breakfast, I asked him how he slept. He said, "I slept well, I always sleep well." When I asked him why, he said "I have no regrets." When I asked how so, he said, without a second of hesitation, "Well, I used my talents for good. I was of service when I could be. I have a family that loves me. What's for breakfast?"
 
Michael Pakenham in 2009 gave my father, then 90, a tour of the newly renovated school. He introduced him to a group of students saying, “this is Dr. Bernard Fitzgerald, he graduated from here in 1937,” to which my father quickly added “which goes to show you studying will not kill you.” Father Planning graciously hosted him for lunch and a tour of the renovated church two years ago. For those brief sojourns back to Eye Street, he was very grateful.
 
He remained grateful for the doors opened to him by others; the mentors who taught him; and for the good he could do with the talents given him.
 
Bernard Fitzgerald had a keen memory, great sense of humor and was a life-long learner. He read two newspapers a day, a book or more a week, was proficient in texting, Facebook, GIFs, emojis, and online banking. Because his mental status never changed, we thought the universe forgot he was here and maybe he would just plod long indefinitely. But on reflection, it was the Lord in his generosity who chose to share him with us for so long.
 
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*Gonzaga’s street address is 19 Eye Street now, but it was 27 Eye Street in 1937.
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