Antique Vintage 15

John J. Fitzgerald

October 9, 1941 ~ November 26, 2021 (age 80)

Obituary Image

Obituary

John J. Fitzgerald of Longmeadow, MA, died on November 26, 2021. He was 80.

John was the second of five children born to Bridget (Buckley) and George Fitzgerald. As a youngster, he thrived in his Holyoke neighborhood, attending public school, catching pickup baseball and football games, working paper routes, and playing clarinet in the school band. He was the brother sought out for advice, the first to secure his driver’s license, the one who served as advocate. John was a reader and in his college years engaged siblings at holiday gatherings in rousing debates of national politics, foreign policy, novels, films, and religion. As he grew older, John’s drive for inquiry and discussion only increased--continuing spirited exchanges with family.

John earned a BA in government from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1963. While his college major was initially chemistry, his interest in political thought and discussion led him to philosophy and government--a mix that strengthened his passions for ideas and argument. Enlisting in the US Army after graduation, he attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1964 against the backdrop of an escalating Vietnam Conflict. John was commissioned Second Lieutenant (Infantry) and was stationed in Alaska and Hawaii before shipping out to Vietnam in 1966 as Combat Infantry Platoon Leader, 25th Infantry Division. He was dedicated to members of his platoon and led with courage. Wounded at Cu Chi, site of a major underground Viet Cong base, John recuperated first at the former US military base in Yokohama (Japan) and then stateside at Fort Devens (MA) before returning to civilian life in 1968. Honorably discharged as a Captain, he was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantry Badge, and the National Defense Medal.

Vietnam proved to be a turning point in his life and in his politics. John considered the day he was shot his second birthday--a new beginning marked by a change in his thinking, dedication to teaching young people, political and community investment, and work for peace. Once home, he became an active force in Vietnam Veterans Against the War. In 1968, he campaigned for Senator Eugene McCarthy in his bid for the presidency and was elected a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1968. He remained active in numerous Democratic campaigns from the 1970s to the present. John co-authored/edited The Vietnam War: A History in Documents (Oxford University Press), published in 2002 and documenting primary source accounts of American policy in Vietnam.

After completion of military service, John returned to western Massachusetts and began his career as a historian in the social studies department of Longmeadow High School (LHS) in 197l. While at LHS, he pursued graduate studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was awarded an MA in Teaching (History) in 1978. Throughout his tenure, he was known as a principled, engaging, impassioned teacher with an incisive memory, an educator effectively connecting facts and events to a coherent whole--and an entertaining storyteller. Students remember him with respect and fondness: “John was a passionate advocate for what he believed to be right. His intellectual acuity made him a great teacher, a formidable activist, and a valuable interlocutor...I will remember his wit and wisdom, dispensed with love but without subtlety...a man of high conscience and principle.” “Mr. Fitz remains one of my favorite teachers; he gave me unwavering encouragement and was always a strong champion.” “John loved to engage students--to challenge them to seek out evidence and think critically; he was dynamic, irreverent, generous, playful, curious about technology and new ideas.” He was “...a standup man and a colorful character; we were lucky to have him at LHS and beyond.”

John retired as department chair of the Longmeadow Social Studies Department in 2004 and continued his public service to the community. He volunteered in numerous capacities: as Registrar of Voters in Longmeadow from 1993 to 2006, elected member of the Longmeadow School Committee from 2008 to 2017, and trustee for the Holyoke Soldiers Home from 2009 to 2015. He was a member of Jobs with Justice, the Longmeadow Democratic Town Committee, and lifetime member of the Organization of American Historians. Ever a teacher, four days before he died he zoomed the Monday session of his online Vietnam era seminar.

Those closest to John remember him as a large and often booming presence, lover of seafood and pinot noir, a strong-willed man with a huge heart and hearty laugh. He loved gathering for holidays in Cambridge, Lynnfield, and Katama; hitting Legal Seafood for a couple dozen oysters and too much food; railing against forces perpetuating  poverty; sometimes bucking the system to uncover truth; demonstrating hope through work with the young and the seasoned; working for social justice.

John J. Fitzgerald was a good man who lived a good life: devoted son and brother, loving (adopted) grandfather, dedicated educator, colleague, friend, and community contributor who made a positive difference. John is survived by brothers George of Greenville, Delaware, David of Bethesda, Maryland, and Daniel of Holyoke, Massachusetts. He was predeceased by his sister Dorothy Anne Fitzgerald. He leaves the extended Finn family, especially George, Christine and children Caroline and Sarah; and Elizabeth and children Grace and John. He also leaves former students and old and new friends in abundance. Onward.

It was John’s wish that his body be cremated. Barry J. Farrell Funeral Home of Holyoke is handling arrangements.  A Celebration of Life will be held in the new year.

In place of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.


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