‘Fitzy is Fairfield University’: Voice of the Stags retires after 55 years

FAIRFIELD — Jim Fitzpatrick has been a constant around Fairfield University’s campus for the past 55 years.

He retired this month, leaving behind his position as vice president for auxiliary services, but not his connection to the university and town where he’s made a home.

“It was a great, great time in my life and something I’ll always treasure,” Fitzpatrick said.

He made the decision to retire last February while eating at Circle Diner with his wife Phyllis and hasn’t looked back. She had already retired after spending years at Fairfield University, Norwalk Community College and Housatonic Community College.

“I felt it was time to spend more time with her and travel,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our three grandkids live in Fairfield and I wanted to spend more time with them.”

Fitzpatrick has been commended by many in the campus community for his years of service.

“The value of his life’s dedication to this institution is truly immeasurable, and he will forever be a part of the Fairfield story,” University President Mark R. Nemec said in a statement.

Fitzpatrick was drawn to Fairfield University as a high school student with aspirations to play college basketball. On Feb. 4, 1966, he interviewed with Rev. Henry Murphy, who later married Fitzpatrick and his wife.

When he wasn’t accepted to the College of Holy Cross, Fitzpatrick decided to come to Fairfield.

“I thought it was a devastating moment in my life and it actually turned out to be a blessing,” Fitzpatrick said.

He became an English major, making him the first in his family to attend college. He also joined the basketball team as a manager but still got his chance on the court in uniform when some players got into academic trouble that January and he was called on to play in some games.

“I actually scored one point in Alumni Hall, so I guess you could say I am in the record books,” he said.

Fitzpatrick leaves a bigger legacy with the basketball program as the voice of the Stags, serving as the court-side announcer for the men’s games since 1971.

He was inducted into the Fairfield University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012. Fairfield University Student Association students, alumni and staff recently raised $100,000 to name the press row after him in what will be the new arena and convocation center on campus.

Some of his other accolades include the 2015 Rev. W. Laurence O’Neil, S.J., Employee Choice Award, Fairfield’s 2012 Leader in Campus Sustainability Award, the 2011 Ignatian Medal from the Jesuit Student Personnel Administrators, and the 1994 Alumni Association Alumni Service Award.

Fitzpatrick said he’s humbled by the awards and credits his mentors and professors, but especially the students, for making work such a rewarding experience.

“These are the individuals who really made me going to work every day not seem like I was going to work,” he said.

One such mentor introduced him to the auxiliary services, hiring Fitzpatrick as a student assistant. When he left to earn his doctorate in Illinois, Fitzpatrick was asked to take over at the campus center.

“They didn’t really have anyone else so to run the campus center,” Fitzpatrick said. “I had just been married so I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ I did it and the rest is really a lot of luck, a lot of blessings and a lot of really great people.”

He’s seen the university change a lot from his time as a student — graduating as part of the school’s 20th class — to now when more students are coming in for specific professional tracts. He said the academic offerings and facilities have only improved. Auxiliary services is also more integrated into the campus life with “tremendous strides” in collegiate dining.

Auxiliary services are essentially anything on campus outside of the classroom, he said. This includes busing, dining and the book store, which he helped establish on Post Road.

He said auxiliary services aligns with the Jesuit philosophy of service first introduced by his parents in Fall River Mass., and strengthened at Fairfield.

In addition to serving the students, he also took the concept of service into the community. He spearheaded and developed the weekly volunteer project to serve meals at the Prospect House shelter in Bridgeport, which has continued for more than 30 years. He also re-energized an annual spring break immersion service trip to eastern Kentucky, according to a news release from the university.

Fitzpatrick said his favorite thing about Fairfield though is the sense of community he felt within the university and town.

“The academic experience at Fairfield consists, hopefully, of four years,” he said. “But the connections, the relationships and friendships go on for a lifetime.”

Fitzpatrick values his time working with the students who he said he learned just as much from them.

Several of his students have expressed similar sentiments.

“Fitzy is Fairfield University to many of us,” said Edward “Ned” Burt, a 1978 Fairfield University grad who was a student worker under Fitzpatrick’s Campus Center leadership and is now a Connecticut probate judge.

“Just the mention of his name brings a smile to my face and gives my entire being a warm feeling. He was so good to us.”