In Memory

William Fitzgerald - Class Of 1961

Mr. William B. Fitzgerald

June 12, 1942 - February 03, 2008

Fitzgerald Jr, William B., 65, of Grosse Pointe Farms from colon cancer -- beloved husband of Margaret, loving father of William, John and Meghan, son of the late William B. Fitzgerald Sr, survived also by mother, Eleanor J. Fitzgerald. Dear brother of Timothy E. Fitzgerald (Karen), uncle of Timothy P. and Michael W., son-in-law of Edward and Rita O’Neill, brother-in-law to Kathleen O’Neill, Mary Ellen Cassady (James), Timothy O’Neill (Diane), Barbara Hoehn (Clair), Maureen Kapala (Timothy).
Throughout the 1970’s, William B. Fitzgerald Jr. was one of the most visible figures in Michigan politics. He was Democratic Party candidate for the office of governor in 1978.
First elected to the Michigan State House of Representatives in 1971 from Detroit’s 4th, and later 12th, districts, Bill Fitzgerald was elected to the Michigan State Senate in November, 1974. He was then, and remains, both the youngest Senate Majority Leader in state history, and the only Senate Majority Leader to have been selected for this top Senate post while still a member of the State House of Representatives -- before he was officially sworn in as a senator.
Born on Detroit’s east side (June 12, 1942), Fitzgerald attended Austin Catholic High School, Detroit, and Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, where he played on the WMU basketball team. Upon graduation, Fitzgerald became a teacher and basketball coach at Detroit’s St. Martin’s high school while also attending Detroit College of Law as a night student. As head coach at St. Martin’s, Fitzgerald transformed a team with a no-win season into runner-up in the state division championship game. After graduating from Detroit College of Law, Fitzgerald practiced law until his father, State Representative William B. Fitzgerald Sr., suffered a fatal heart attack in 1970. William Fitzgerald Jr. was elected to his father’s vacant house district in November, 1970. He was elected to the State Senate four years later – November, 1974 – and immediately selected as Senate leader.
His two-year term as Senate Majority Leader (1975-76) was exciting by any standard, as “Billy Fitz” persuaded members of the Senate Democratic caucus to advance controversial “post-Watergate” legislative reforms. This legislation imposed new standards that included disclosure of outside income by public officials, the state’s first statutory code of ethics, and public disclosure of campaign expenses.
Senator Fitzgerald also helped engineer the creation of the state’s first “rainy day fund” -- developed to allow the state to save money in good years and avoid tax increases during downturns in the economy, a fund our current governor is promising to begin to refill this year.
Among the other achievements of this session was legislation creating the state’s model land trust fund. Under the Kammer Fund, significant private land has been purchased by the state and transformed into public land for recreational use.
As early as mid-1975, Democratic committees began forming across Michigan to make Senator Fitzgerald his party’s nominee to unseat two-term incumbent Governor William Milliken, and the 33 year-old Detroiter began to quietly, but actively, build his campaign. His message emphasized proactive economic development, increased status for Michigan workers, strengthened political reforms and tough environmental standards in the wake of the chemical (PBB) contamination of the state’s beef supply.
In the weeks before the November 1977 election, the popular Milliken pulled out of a statistical dead-heat with Fitzgerald to win a third term. In 1982, after Fitzgerald’s bid for a second shot at statewide office fell short, Fitzgerald and his partners continued to build a successful law practice.
In 1986, Fitzgerald married Margaret (O’Neill) Fitzgerald in a ceremony in St. Paul’s Catholic Church where he has been a long-time member. Their sons, William and John, are on the dean’s lists at Western Michigan University and Michigan State University respectively, and his daughter Meghan is a freshman honor student at Grosse Pointe South High School.
In the past two decades, Fitzgerald has built a substantial health-care benefit consulting and health care administration business with clients located across the state.
Fitzgerald is a Distinguished Alumni Award recipient from Western Michigan University; Member, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, WMU chapter: Member, Detroit Athletic Club; Member, Grosse Pointe Yacht Club and Member, American Bar Association, State Bar of Michigan and Delta Theta Phi co-educational law fraternity.

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07/19/11 04:10 PM #1    

Jim Whitledge (1961)

Fitz was my little brother in SAE.  Both at WMU and through the years until his death, we shared many good times together, as well as times that were challenging, mainly surrounding health issues.   His obituary information above provides an excellent summary in celebrating his life.  Through our respective families I had the opportunity to share in many of those events.  Fitz is greatly missed by family, friends, and SAE brothers who had maintained contact with him through the years. 


Jim Whitledge

07/15/19 06:11 PM #2    

Gary Walker (1961)

Fitz and I maintained continuous contact after WMU, with many other MI Delta brothers. He was physically large (6'4") with a larger than life personality, achieving many accomplishments outlined in his obituary above. I had the pleasure of spending time with him while he served in the Michigan legislature and, as he said with a broad smile, "working for good government." He was the working man's friend but knew how to smooze the big shooters. I attended a lunch with him at Little Harry's restaurant in Detroit where he met with then candidate for US President Jimmy Carter, and I am sure that Mr. Carter was rightfully convinced of Fitz's influence and support (I did not receive the Cabinet post that I sought when Carter was elected but I did have a good free lunch). 

Fitz was a good man, husband and father, bless his Irish Catholic sole.

Gary Walker

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