Rest in Peace Mike Fitzgerald
This month I am writing about a very good friend who not only helped me in business and politics, but also in just plain old fashioned common sense. That person is none other than Mike Fitzgerald.
Most people knew Mike as the owner of the Shamrock Restaurant in Thurmont, and very few knew the things he orchestrated in order for Frederick County to become a better place for everyone. It would take me eight million words to describe my memories of Mike over the last 40 years, but since I have a lot less than that allocated to this column, I'll try to pick the best of the best.
I think it was back in the mid-1990s, I was having some issues with Frederick County. So I called upon a then county commissioner to meet me and discuss the issues so we could get them resolved.
I asked this commissioner to meet me at the Shamrock for lunch, thinking that if Mike is around, he'd probably like to have lunch with us, too, since I knew Mike was very political and was supportive of this elected official.
We – the commissioner and I – were sitting in the dining room, had just gotten our food when Mike walked in. I think to myself, good, here comes Mike, maybe he'll join us.
Boy, was I wrong. Mike walks up to the table and let's this commissioner know that he was very unhappy with a recent vote that was made on some liberal feel-good item that would have an effect on his business.
Apparently, this commissioner changed his vote in favor of the issue, after telling Mike previously he was against the issue. We sat there for well over 10 minutes as Mike let this guy have it with one adjective after another. Once Mike left the dining area, the commissioner and I both just sat there staring into space. I looked at him and said "in case you weren't aware, one thing you don't do, is lie to Mike Fitzgerald." I paid the tab, got up and walked out and never did get an answer to my issue, and from that point on I thought to myself, if I were ever to be elected and put into a position where I could help people, I would. I wouldn't be like the commissioner who lied to Mike Fitzgerald and left me hanging on my issue as well.
Fast forward 15 years and I was actually running for election for commissioner in Frederick County. One of my biggest supporters was Mike Fitzgerald.
Mike and I talked often about the direction the county needed to go, and he gave me a lot of useful information time and time again which was and still is, greatly appreciated.
I think Mike had long forgotten that day in the restaurant dining room with the county commissioner and me, but I didn't. It was engrained in my mind that everything I was telling Mike I would do......I better do, because I know that he would not be shy about calling me out.
Once you lost his trust, there was no turning back; he made that clear 15 years earlier. You would get no more political advice and you damned sure weren't going to the restaurant any longer.
I could go without the political advice, but I couldn't go without eating one of the best steaks in Frederick County at the Shamrock. Fifteen years later I still never forgot the day he deservedly gave it to a commissioner who lied and double crossed him. That simple item helped me to understand that your word means something; integrity means something. It is a valuable lesson Mike Fitzgerald helped teach.
On a non-political note, Mike has about 300 acres in the hills above Emmitsburg, and back in the late 1990's or early 2000, he contracted my firm (W. F. Delauter and Son) to build a mile long roadway up into the property. I remember on a hot and humid summer day, we walked that entire 300 acres placing markers for where the roadway would be built. It must have been 100+ degrees with 100% humidity and I was 35 years old, Mike around 70 years old at the time.
He roamed the mountain with the likes of a deer while I stopped every so often acting as though I was keeping up. I'd act like I was hunting mushrooms, or taking a break, or any other excuse I could find to mask the fact I was severely out of shape. But Mike wasn't buying it. He finally said "are you going to keep up or not?"
We finally marked out all the roadway, and over the next few months, built the road.
Over the next several years we did other work on the property. One day we were all the way at the top of the mountain and there was an outcropping of large rocks. Mike sat on one of the rocks for about five minutes and looked over and said, "Do you hear that?" I told him I didn't hear anything? He said, "That’s what I mean, you can sit here all day and hear nothing."
So from his political advice to sitting on a rock and listening to nothing, he always did one thing........he made you think, and I always like that about him.
Mike passed away a few weeks ago and in the classic Fitzgerald style, his family made the casket for him from trees that Mike felled on that 300 acre property. They made the casket in four days and made it with the same perfection that goes into the food that comes out of the kitchen at the Shamrock Restaurant, the same perfection Mike had as a machinist, a gardener, and a restaurant entrepreneur.
Those apples didn't fall far from the tree, and, as I told his daughter Donna recently, the Fitzgerald's set a new bar for how to honor your parents. And the most amazing thing was watching it and how genuine it was from everyone involved. A classic example of what America should look like.
RIP Mike Fitzgerald