Over 1,000 friends and family members of Kevin Fitzgerald packed the top of the ledge site behind Brigham Circle in Mission Hill last month to celebrate the renaming of Puddingstone Park in honor of their popular native son.
The former state representative and, most recently, sergeant-at-arms at the State House, is battling cancer with the same courage and grace he exhibited for decades as a tenacious advocate for his beloved neighborhood. Fitzgerald, a Jamaica Plain resident, represented JP and Mission Hill for years.
In addition to the naming of the 5.5-acre site the Kevin W. Fitzgerald Park, and the many testimonials given by family and colleagues, Fitzgerald was serenaded with a song—“The Wild Bostonian” written and performed in his honor by the local band the Moonpies. He was also presented with the key to the neighborhood and the hearts of his many admirers by Patricia Flaherty.
“For years we’ve heard you say you were honored to represent the people of [the neighborhoods]. Now we are honored to serve you,” Flaherty said as Fitzgerald raised the key above his head, saluting the crowd.
“This is a special day to thank you,” said Mayor Thomas Menino. “Since first elected at just 23 years old, Kevin always showed his great love for [people he represented]. He was a guy who cared, fighting for social justice, ahead of his times.”
Maryanne O’Keefe called Fitzgerald a “unifier” who “made everyone feel special,” noting he was responsible for “thousands of units of housing” in the neighborhood and transforming the site of the park now named after him.
Fitzgerald’s son John showed he’s mastered some of his dad’s trademark style and humor as he expressed his admiration for his parents. “I’m just now learning how far my dad has spread his love and wealth,” he said, adding, “Mom also deserves all the credit in the world.”
Concerning Fitzgerald’s illness, he said, “After speaking with Dad I knew everything will be all right. He has such a positive view of life.”
Then, turning to his father, beaming with pride, John said with a familiar sparkle in his eye, “To have your old drinking spot named after you is pretty cool.”
After several more testimonials from friends, family and colleagues, including state Auditor Joe DeNucci, state Rep. Martin Walsh and Dr. Douglas Campbell, a former basketball player Fitzgerald coached, their “Fitzy” took the podium with the air of confidence he’s displayed throughout his public career. He pointed out that since his diagnosis he’s had “time to reflect” on his life.
“When I was growing up this place was magic,” he said. “It didn’t matter if you didn’t have anything. It was a small community, but we were tight.”
As for politics, Fitzgerald said, “Growing up, I never wanted to be elected.” His first taste came when he got to be governor for a day.
“I was in Gov. [Francis] Sergeant’s office when the phone rang and he said it was for me. I panicked as he gave me the phone. It was my friend J.J., who liked to gamble. He wanted me to appoint him racing commissioner. I asked my dad what to do, and he said ‘Hang up the phone.’
“Gov. Sergeant asked me if I was interested in politics, and explained that it’s all about understanding human nature. ‘You make a difference in people’s lives,’ he told me.
“At the time I was thinking about teaching, but when I came back from college, going to meetings in the evening about [housing] and other things, the message from Gov. Sergeant resonated in my mind. I remember sitting with Trisha, the love of my life, saying it seemed like I was being called to serve.”
Fitzgerald admitted, “If you told me when I was a kid I’d have men come to my home looking for help when I was just 23 years old, I wouldn’t believe it. But when I thought about how many lives can be touched, I realized going into politics was the right thing for me.”
Spreading his arms as if hold the crowd close to him, Fitzgerald implored them to “listen to each other.”
He thanked everyone, many individually, and especially his wife whom he called “my best friend. I’m not bummed out, I’m not the first or last to be in this situation. But I’ve got a secret weapon—Trisha,” he said.
And although having the park named after him was a great honor, “When I think of my legacy, I think of my children and family,” he said.
He smiled, and looked out over the sea of supporters. “I wouldn’t change anything for all the money in the world.”
And with that, the eloquent urban statesman took a bow and stepped off the stage.