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In New Haven on the early morning of November 17, 1942, death brought to an end the earthly career of one of the most gifted and extraordinary of men in the person of David E. FitzGerald. At the great man's bedside in the hushed room were his family, whom he loved more than life itself. The Angel of Death was so gentle yet firm in the irrevocable summons as to give rise to the query,
"O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?"
The life of David E. FitzGerald was so dynamic, so filled with activity and accomplishments, that even a partial recital would occupy more pages than it is possible to devote in this writing. Accordingly, reference herein will be made only to the highlights of his illustrious career.
He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on September 21, 1874, the eldest son of Edward and Anne (Conway) FitzGerald. His parents were natives of County Kerry, Ireland, who came to America in their youth and located in New Haven. His father conducted a grocery store in New Haven for many years, and on many occasions Mr. FitzGerald has paid tribute to the early opportunities afforded him in his father's store to "size up" his fellowmen and to listen to the opinions of his elders relating to public affairs, expressed around the cracker barrel on winter nights and summer evenings in that long-ago time. The corner grocery store has had its place and made its contributions to society in cities no less than in rural communities.
Mr. FitzGerald first attended St. John's Parochial School in New Haven, and later entered and was graduated from the Hillhouse High School. To be a lawyer was his life's ambition. He matriculated at the Law School of Yale University, and in the spring of 1895 received the degree of bachelor of laws. Although he passed the state bar examinations immediately following his graduation, his actual admission to the bar was deferred until he attained his majority the following autumn. His thirst for legal knowledge, coupled with the delay in embarking upon the profession of his choice, led him to pursue graduate studies in the law at the university which culminated in his being awarded the degree of master of laws in 1896. Before the turn of the present century and for years thereafter it was indeed rare for one to seek and obtain a graduate degree. But David E. FitzGerald, even in early manhood, was no ordinary person. He saw eye to eye with Tennyson in the philosophical expression:
"To follow knowledge like a hidden star Beyond the utmost bound of human thought."
On November 14, 1900, Mr. FitzGerald was married to Alice Clark of Milford, Connecticut. To them two children were born, David E. FitzGerald, Jr., and John Clark FitzGerald. Both sons, to their father's great pride and joy, subsequently entered the profession of the law.
Mr. FitzGerald began his active legal career in 1896 in association with James P. Piggott, a former member of Congress. In 1897 he formed a partnership with the late Walter J. Walsh of New Haven under the firm name of FitzGerald & Walsh. This partnership continued until 1920. From 1920 to 1933 he was the senior associate of the firm of FitzGerald & Hadden, in which the junior associate was William L. Hadden, now lieutenant-governor of Connecticut. In early 1933 the firm of FitzGerald, Foote & FitzGerald was organized, of which Mr. FitzGerald was the senior member and in which were associated his two sons, David, Jr., and John, and Judge Ellsworth B. Foote of North Branford. Later the counsel staff was increased to include Jeremiah D. Shea of Hamden, Joseph M. Brandon of New Haven, Richard C. Hannan of West Haven and Thomas F. Keyes. Jr., and Charles G. Albom of New Haven. This was the personnel at the time of Mr. FitzGerald's death with the exception of John Clark FitzGerald who, on July 1, 1941, had ascended the bench of the Court of Common Pleas.
On the latter aspect, it is interesting to note that the oath of judicial office was administered by the father to his younger son on that memorable occasion in the FitzGerald family. Seldom, if ever, has a father the opportunity to induct his son into high judicial office. It was an auspicious moment in the life of an honored veteran at the bar enjoyed by few men of this or any other generation.
Early in his career Mr. FitzGerald assumed the role of trial lawyer, and soon became recognized at the bar as one of the outstanding court lawyers of his time. His triumphs were innumerable. To attempt to list even his most noteworthy successes would prolong this writing to an inordinate length. His power of cross-examination in the courtroom was acquired in large part through his vast knowledge of human nature and the forces which motivate human conduct. He was a strong advocate because he believed in his cause. The rich and the poor alike sought his services. No cause for him was too insignificant nor too great, providing he believed in its merits.
It is deemed fitting to refer to one specific episode in his legal career. In his early thirties he was named, with Clarence Deming and Judge William Case of the Superior Court, to serve as an arbitration board in the dispute between the Connecticut Company and its employees over an increase in wages, and he joined with Judge Case in making an award in favor of the employees. This was the first tribunal of its kind in this state, and was among the first in the United States to deal with such matters involving so many persons.
No sketch of Mr. FitzGerald's life would be complete without mentioning his great service to the city of New Haven, of which he was elected mayor for four terms, serving from 1918 to 1926. His administration was noted for its wise policies in the direction of the destinies of New Haven through the first World War and in the years immediately following.
Mr. FitzGerald also performed other services of note in the political realm, having been chairman of the Democratic state central committee from 1913 to 1922, Democratic candidate for governor of Connecticut in 1922 and a delegate-at-large from Connecticut to every Democratic national convention since 1912. At the time of his death and for many years prior thereto he was Democratic national committeeman for Connecticut and vice chairman of the Democratic national committee. He numbered among his close friends two presidents of the United States, namely, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Mr. FitzGerald was the only civilian member of the Admiral Foot Post of the Grand Army of the Republic in New Haven, an honorary member of the Allan Osborn Camp of the Spanish-American War Veterans and an honorary member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. So also at the time of his death he was honorary captain and judge advocate of the Second Company Governor's Foot Guard. His memberships in various fraternal organizations and social clubs were many.
Yale University, in recognition of his extreme labor as a public servant, his devotion to the furtherance of education and his abiding interest in matters relating to the general welfare, signally honored him fifteen years ago by including his portrait in her Hall of Fame in Harkness Memorial, thus constituting the lawyer and man of public affairs one of the University's "Thirty Immortals." So also New Haven, the city of his birth and the scene of his triumphs, caused to be erected some ten years ago in its Hall of Records a bronze tablet commemorating the man and his services to the community where he lived, worked and was to die.
Mr. FitzGerald was an indefatigable worker in his chosen profession and in all things to which he gave himself. On his desk in his private office was this motto, which demonstrated his viewpoint: "Blessed is that man who has found his work." He believed also in the motto that "Unless a man finds joy in his work, he will not find it at all."
In the summer of 1942 he became seriously ill. His vitality waned. He suddenly became tired. Yet he wished so much to live, for he loved his family, his associates and his work. It was not to be. In the early hours of the morning of November 17th, he passed away in peace. Shortly before the end he turned to his family and quoted Tennyson's immortal lines:
"Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea."
On a hillside of St. Lawrence Cemetery, overlooking the city of his birth, "Little Dave," as he was affectionately known to his intimates, now rests. In the distant vista appear the lofty buildings of the city which he served with distinction and with love, the towers of immortal Yale, and the dome of the county courthouse. Yes, death has come to a truly great lawyer and public-spirited citizen of Connecticut, but only death in a physical sense. The spirit of David E. FitzGerald is eternal.
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