Reflection on the life of former State President William (Bill) Fitzgerald (1925-2023)

Bill’s long life of 98 years was one dedicated to service – service to his family, his faith and to others, especially those in need. An extraordinary storyteller, who could bring a sense of humour to the darkest of topics, his influence and impact were felt by all those whom he encountered.  

Born in the inner city of Sydney on 3 April 1925, Bill spent most of his childhood in Darlinghurst, attending the local Christian Brothers school. It was a tough environment, not for the faint hearted, and undoubtedly contributed to him developing a keen interest in boxing. It also contributed to his unwavering protection of those on the margins. 

Joining the Sydney City Council aged 16 was the beginning of a lifelong career leading to him being Director of Health and Community Services. His time in the Council was only interrupted by his joining the RAAF towards the end of WWII and serving in far north Queensland as a radio operator.  

Through the CYO dances at Paddington he met and married Shirley in 1947, who was his lifelong partner until her death 2008. They shared his love of breeding, showing and judging dogs, his involvement in multiple parish activities, raising three children and accompanying him on his many Vincentian ventures. 

In the mid-1970s Bill was made a Member of the British Empire for his services to the community. Whilst he may have been happy to wait for the new Australian Honours System, the MBE was a fitting recognition for his work in the community – though he never wore the medal or badge. His acts of support to community groups and acts of kindnesses to individuals are countless and often recorded with great appreciation by those affected. He had a unique gift in being able to have the confidence of local Aldermen, Parliamentarians, Ministers and even Premiers, yet remain absolutely grounded in the lives and needs of those doing it tough. One former Commonwealth Minister recently wrote ‘I was privileged to know him as a wise, thoughtful, clever and extremely compassionate human’. Rich or poor, powerful or oppressed Bill had your back if you needed it. 

In 2007 Bill was awarded the ‘Cross of Honour’ Medal by Pope John Paul II which is one of the highest Medal that can be given to a lay member of the Church. This was presented by his great friend Mons Grenald at the Portland Catholic Church, which was his parish following his move to Cullen Bullen, following his retirement. From his youngest years Bill was a true believer. But, he believed faith needed to be put into practice. He was involved with the CYO, St Vincent de Paul Society, and the Knights of the Southern Cross. He relished the opportunities created by the Second Vatican Council and joined and chaired the parish councils at Forestville and Portland/Wallerawang. He served on the Bathurst Diocesan Pastoral Council under Bishop Patrick Dougherty and pushed for reforms to make the church more relevant to its people. He believed in the voice of the laity being heard and formed a special relationship with Cardinals Gilroy and Freeman who consulted with him often. It may have been his frankness or maybe they just liked his humour. 

Finally, Bill was recognised for his 75 years of membership and service to the St Vincent de Paul Society. This work of charity was his greatest love. Joining as youth member in his teens, he went on to be President of the Maternal Heart of Mary Conference operating out of the Society’s head office at Circular Quay, President of the Stella Maris Club for Seafarers, NSW State President and National Council Vice President for Overseas Twining. He remained connected to local conferences at Dulwich Hill, Forestville and Portland and later supporting the Bathurst Diocesan Council in the development of their Centres. He was a committed supporter of the Society’s Social Justice Advocacy, never being timid in its defence of the poor. During his term as State President, he was especially proud of the Society’s expansion of Aged Care and Homeless Persons Special Works and the growth in female membership. He was proud of the Society’s work with women escaping domestic violence. He believed the Society could be the best of Church – faithful, compassionate and relevant especially to those in need. 

If there is one word that that comes to mind on Bill’s passing on 7 December 2023, it is gratitude. Gratitude for his love of his wife, children and grandchildren. Gratitude for the acceptance of the many parish communities in which he lived and engaged. Gratitude for his legacy of good works. Gratitude for the wit and wisdom he bought to all.  

Gratitude is said to be the doorway to abundance. Bill lived an abundant life – dedicated to faith, family and others. 

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