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(Its the late 70s, and life is moving on for Fitz.

Here he says goodbye, and then hello, to two


very important people in his life, with a few police matters to address in-between.)

Chapter 18a
It was the worst of times, it was the best of times
Yes, I know. The iconic first few words in Dickens A Tale of Two Cities are inverted
here. But the above words, in the above order, aptly describe the year 1979 for me, at least from
a personal perspective. Allow me to enumerate.

While on the whole I have very positive memories of my childhood and my teenage years
with my parents, as I approached my late teens and added to the strain of our parental/child
relationship, we werent necessarily as close as we could have been. Wally was getting older,
(he was already in his mid-60s when I was in my mid-teens; my mom, Alma, in her mid-50s), I
was getting more independent, and we clearly didnt always see eye-to-eye on a number of
matters. Of course, in retrospect, and with the benefit of my own later adult and parenting
personal history, I know that these riffs and personality clashes are not all that uncommon
between parents and their maturing children. This would include, of course, between dads and
their sons. But, despite these normal (I guess) familial growing pains, once I matured, and
especially after I got married, my dad and I became closer than ever.
I realized at an early age that unlike most kids and their parents who are one generation
apart, my parents and I were almost two solid generations apart. Thats the family structure I
was born into. Im not complaining, its just what it was. This social dynamic played itself out
on numerous occasions in our respective teenage and senior years together, I would think even

more so than kids and parents just one generation apart. But, that all changed after a while. This
multi-generational gap seemed to morph into a more level playing field for me and my dad,
perhaps to the point that we seemed to be only a generation apart, once I started working fulltime, got married, owned a house, and was now even expecting my first child. The bottom-line
here, my dad and I developed a very strong father and son bond, stronger than ever, as I
approached my mid-20s and he his mid-70s. Unfortunately, that bond would be soon broken just
as it was reaching its zenith.

While my dad had a couple of hospital stays starting in the mid-1970s, they were behind
him and he seemed to be in relatively good health. In fact, during a routine medical test when he
was about 71 or so, he had chest x-rays taken and there was also a scope-probe of some sort of
his lungs. Almost immediately afterwards, he was shown the results of these two separate
exams. The doctor made it abundantly clear to him that the images he was looking at were the
result of him being a lifelong smoker. The darkened images in and around my dads lungs were
the aftereffects of many decades of tar, nicotine, and other cigarette-related residue built up
there. This was made even more obvious to him when he was shown an x-ray image of another
70-something male who was a non-smoker. The image of this anonymous guys lung area was
purportedly much lighter in shade and hue than my dads own lung image. In effect, this other
guy had much healthier lungs than did my dad. In effect, he was much healthier than my dad.
I knew Wally was at the hospital having a battery of tests on this day and I called him at
home later that evening. On the telephone, he described to me what he had been shown as being
a murky image of lots of black goop in an around his lungs. And all present because of him

being a cigarette smoker for the last 60-plus years of his life. He was upset at himself, but I
heard determination in his voice at the same time.
So, what did Wally do? He told me he came home from that hospital visit that afternoon
and swore off of cigarettes completely, cold-turkey. My mom was a smoker too, and in
solidarity with him she quit for good at the same time. All of a sudden, overnight, my parents
were now nicotine and tobacco free.
This was really strange as their smoking rituals had been something my siblings and I had
become accustomed to all of our lives. My sisters and my repeated requests to our parents to
curtail or completely cease their tobacco related habits, especially after the U. S. Surgeon
General released the research linking smoking and lung cancer in the early 1960s, fell on two
sets of deaf ears. They didnt listen to the Surgeon General, nor did they listen to Cass, Alma,
Marilyn, or me at any time subsequent to these research findings becoming well known
throughout the country and the world.
Instead, ironically, it was my dads pulmonologist who convinced him, in his eighth
decade, and indirectly, my mom too, in her seventh decade, to cease this stupid habit. This after
my dad had visually observed the internal damage that all these years of tobacco inhalation had
done to his lungs.
On an equally positive note, my days of sucking in their secondary smoke were over, as
well as my three sisters, their husbands, and their kids too. Great news for all involved here,
well, except maybe the tobacco companies.
Luckily, as far as I presently know, none of my above listed extended family ever
developed that nasty and now very costly habit. That includes me, too, of course. My parents
didnt know of the dangers of smoking when they started in the 1920s and 1930s, but once the

indisputable evidence was shown to my dad in the hospital room that day, he stopped forever.
Good for him and the rest of my family.

My dad was actually feeling better upon the cessation of his cigarette smoking days, and
would have more energy to drive to visit me and my wife at our new house and help me with
various projects there. While as a young boy and later a teenager, I was never too keen on my
dad making me help him with various household type jobs. Id rather be outside playing
sports, hangin out with my friends, or just watching TV, but sometimes back then he gave me
no choice. These jobs were usually undertaken in our 3rd St. rowhome basement as we sanded
down stuck closet doors, installed the occasional new water heaters, washers, dryers, or even put
together a TV stand or two for our new portable nineteen-inch TVs. I would sit alongside of my
dad and be asked to hand him certain tools, much like a nurse assists a doctor during surgery. In
doing so, I would find it very boring. Sometimes though, he would explain what had to be done
and he would then allow me to hammer something, screw something, saw something, whatever
the task may entail, teaching me various mechanical tricks-of-the-trade as we went along.
Performing these tasks, I discovered once I was into them, was really not that boring.
And, even if I messed it up on my first few tries, my dad was patient and encouraged me to try it
again until I got it right. I was learning some lifelong tool-using skills here, whether I knew it or
not at the time, all thanks to my dad.
Now, with my own new house in Bensalem (bought in June of 77), an actual single
home, not a rowhome or townhouse, and with an unfinished upstairs to it, I would need advice
and assistance, and yes, some tools too, to complete the task of making the upstairs livable for
my soon to be expanded family. Thats when my dad, now eight years or so into full retirement,

would gladly drive to my house on my days off and we would undertake these various tasks. I
would always do the heavy lifting and ladder work, as he wasnt quite up to that level of physical
exertion anymore, but he was definitely the brains behind most of these early home improvement
operations. He knew so much about houses and their inner-workings, to include plumbing,
electrical systems, and similarly related matters; ones that I never thought about in my youth, but
now needed to know. If Wally didnt initially advise me how to do the job, and then me
eventually finishing it on my own, I would have had to call in a professional, something which I
didnt want to do any more than necessary. After all, I was just earning a cops salary at the
time. Doing it myself, with my dads help of course, made it much more feasible. I may have
taken longer to complete these tasks than an actual plumber, electrician, or carpenter, but it was
definitely cheaper for me as all I was paying for were the materials, and not anyone elses costly
hourly rate.
Once my dad got me started on these projects, I would more-or-less take over. He and
my mom would visit me at my house back in 78 and early 79 maybe twice per month. On the
other weeks, I would drive to visit them. We rarely went more than a week or ten days without
seeing each other back then, and every few days on the phone I would talk to both of them.
When I finally completed making the formerly unfinished upstairs dormer of my house
into one large living area, now fully insulated, fully paneled (yes, paneling was in style then),
with a cathedral-like ceiling with fancy recessed lighting, orange-ish wall-to-wall carpeting,
complete with nineteen-inch color TV, hooked up to a rotating antenna that I installed up on the
roof myself, and an eight-foot regulation pool table of which I negotiated with the former owner
to leave behind, I was set. It was the rec room of my dreams, even if on the second floor.

My dad, after not having been at my house for about two months or so because of some
ongoing inclement weather and me scheduled to be in court on several of my regular days off,
didnt get to see or help me with the final stages of completing my upstairs remodeling project.
He finally managed to stop by one morning, walked upstairs with me, and without saying a word
for over a minute, just nodding his head up-and-down, I saw he was pleased. He finally told me
I did a great job, and I should be very proud of myself for the excellent workmanship which he
could see went into this new room. That was his way of telling me again that he was proud of
me. It made me feel really good about myself.
I reminded Wally, however, that without him strongly encouraging me to help him on his
own 3rd St. household projects years ago when I was a kid, and certainly his very recent advice
and assistance on this project in my own new house, it couldnt and wouldnt have been done.
Well, unless I had paid someone to come in and do it for me. But, that was something I gladly
avoided to save the money that I really didnt have in the first place, certainly at this stage of my
life.
The only thing that was missing from the whole project was a handrail to go up the stairs
to the second floor. My dad and mom could still make it up there with minimal problem, but of
course older people do prefer railings of some sort on stairs as they ascend or descend them.
But, I told my dad I left it off for one reason and one reason only. I reminded him it was because
my friend, Joe Widmeier, was in a wheelchair (from a 73 car accident) and when we were
entertaining at my house, and there were at least two adult males present, we would carry him, in
his chair, upstairs. A railing on this particular stairway would have made it much more difficult
to get Joe up there. That stairway went for a number of years with no handrail. All to better

facilitate Joes ascendancy up to my new second floor rec roomwith some abled-body help, of
course, to carry him up there.
My dad understood and agreed with this notion.

Of course, I was still working as a plainclothes BPD police officer during this time. As
mentioned before, the duties were varied and would sometimes cover all different hours and days
of the week. One such special assignment for me was in early March of 79.
Starting in mid-February of that year, there were some overnight burglaries reported in
the I-95 Industrial Park in Bensalem. Several different companies had been broken into over
successive weekends with their burglar alarms somehow disabled beforehand. These thieves
were not just the average smash-and-run types. They possessed a somewhat higher level of
sophistication to them in that they could not only defeat the alarm systems, but could also enter
the properties through otherwise locked doors, defeating those systems too. This team also
tended to steal quality and expensive office equipment, cash (if found), and other items designed
for quick turnaround in the local underground market of stolen goods.
These burglaries were occurring overnight on weekends. The patrol officers had no luck
in identifying and apprehending these guys, only taking the burglary reports on the Monday
mornings when the employees showed up. The detectives assigned to these cases were making
no progress solving this rash of break-ins either. So, my Tac Squad was assigned to try to catch
these thieves in the act. Two pairs of my colleagues had worked the several weekends before,
now it was my turn with another colleague to work the overnight shift at the industrial park. It
would be the weekend of March 2nd. My hours were 11P to 7A. Its an assignment Ill never
forget, but not for the reasons one might think.

The two-night assignment was routine. My colleague and I followed a few cars around
the industrial park those two nights, but to no avail as they really werent up to anything
nefarious. We even had one car routinely stopped by a patrol unit after it and its occupants
had somewhat suspiciously driven throughout the complex for a while around 3AM, but nothing
ever came of it. On that Sunday morning, as we did the morning before, we checked the
buildings as best we could to make sure there were no overt indicators of a burglary having taken
place. Finding none, we left the industrial park around 6:45A, drove back to the police station,
dropped off our work cars, and drove home in our personal cars.
As I walked into my house shortly after 7A, I was tired. It had been a long and boring
night. For some reason, as I had realized earlier and again at that moment, I had not talked to my
parents in about four days or so. Thats a bit longer than usual, compared to our usual trend of
calling or seeing each other. I knew my dad would already be up and out of bed, as even after all
these years of retirement he was still an early riser. So, I thought, why not give him a call. Hed
appreciate it as Id fill him in on my last few nights of work, on what my next project was
around the house, and on what day I could either visit him in Olney or he and mom could come
to visit me. But first, I decided to get changed into my PJs, brush my teeth, wash my face, drink
my normal before-bed glass of water, and THEN call him, just before laying down.
I did everything above except call my dad. By the time I performed my last before-bed
task I realized just how tired I was. I then figured Id just call him when I get up later this
afternoon. No big deal. Well talk then and for a longer time as Ill be refreshed from hopefully
eight full hours of uninterrupted daytime sleep. So, off to bed I went. I slept like a baby, too.
Little did I then realize, I had just passed up my last chance to talk with my dad. Ever.

I awoke around 1:00 on that Sunday afternoon. Some outside noises disturbed me, and
for that and perhaps for other reasons, I just couldnt fall back to sleep. I was restless and felt I
needed some fresh air and some sunshine. Working the midnight shift for the last two days I
hadnt seen too much sun. That is never a good thing, at least for me. I got dressed quickly and
jumped into my car and drove around for a while running some errands. Looking back, Im not
sure exactly where I went or why, but something was bothering me, something wasnt right. I
got a bite to eat at a fast food place and I eventually drove back home by 3:30 or so. Thats
when my life changed forever.
Eileen met me at the front door as I was re-entering the house. (She had been out when I
had first awakened.) She said my aunt had called and told her that my dad had collapsed at my
parents house and he was now at the hospital with my mom. I should probably go there too.
What the ?
My wife, now five months pregnant, and I drove to Albert Einstein Medical Center in
Philadelphia where my dad was in an ER hospital bed. I was met there by my three sisters.
I learned that earlier, at my parents house, my dad started talking incomprehensively to
my mom, and slowly collapsed onto the living room floor. She at first called my aunt, who was
a nurse, and she advised my mom to call the rescue squad. They responded and took my dad to
the hospital. By the time we all got there, his first medical tests had been undertaken and the
results were provided to us. He had suffered a stroke. It was a serious one. Essentially, most of
his brain had shut down.
Wally was eventually moved to a regular room in the hospital. We all migrated to that
location and saw that he was comatose and non-responsive to any outside stimulation. He was

hooked up to a machine which facilitated his breathing. Otherwise, he was lifeless. He never
looked so old to me.
Someone from my family, even extended family, was with my dad in his hospital room
every day and night during the next week. My mom went home in the late evening, but she was
there around sixteen hours a day with him. My sisters and I took our turns with him and mom.
Wed talk to each other but found it helpful to include him in the conversations too. The doctors
said it was good for him, and that he may even be hearing us on some level. Whether that was
accurate or not is impossible to say, but we would tell him things and include him in our
discussions anyway. The only difference now being he wouldnt respond and there was the
constant din of the breathing apparatus in the background. It was all very disconcerting to me,
and my family, to say the least.

Coincidently, a rape arrest that I had made months before was set for court this upcoming
week. And, as the trial must go on, I travelled to Doylestown that next day, Monday, only to
learn that it was continued (postponed) until Wednesday. I drove from there directly to my dads
hospital and stayed with him and my mom into Monday night. I was with him for most of
Tuesday again too.
I traveled back to Doylestown on Wednesday, as the trial officially started then. I offered
my testimony that day and was over and done with it. I learned the next week that the defendant
was convicted of rape and eventually sentenced to multiple years in state prison. It was a good
arrest, and I suppose good testimony I offered, despite the sickness of my dad weighing on my
mind the whole time.

Testifying, as I have written earlier, is tough enough with just remembering the details of
a particular arrest, witness/victim information, rules of law, courtroom protocols, crossexamination pitfalls, etc. Undertaking it while experiencing a difficult external dilemma such as
a very sick, if not dying, father makes it all that much tougher. But, I got through it. One more
bad guy put away for a well-deserved prison stay.

That Thursday I took off from work and spent it at the hospital. On Friday and Saturday,
at my moms and sisters strong suggestion, I went back to work. It was probably good for me.
Watching my lifeless dad all day in a hospital bed, when only a week ago he was up, around, and
vibrant, at least as much as any 75-year old can be, was very difficult for me. I wanted to be
there, with him, but it was so personally troubling to see him like that.
On Saturday, March 10, I went in to work a 10A-6P shift at Neshaminy Mall. I was
scheduled off on the next day, and I would go to the hospital again then. But, as it turned out, Id
never go back to my dads hospital room again.
I wasnt more than three hours into my Saturday shift when I received a radio call from
dispatch to telephone my home. I sort of guessed what I was going to hear, and I was right. I
called from a pay phone at the mall and my wife told me that my sister Alma had just told her
that my dad had passed away about an hour ago.
How ignominious; for me, anyway. I would learn of my dads death while on a pay
phone at the Neshaminy Mall, home of dozens of fine retail stores, restaurants, a bar, a movie
theater, and numerous car thieves and sex perverts. None of the former or the latter were on my
mind at this exact time, however, I can assure you. So, I immediately hung up the phone, drove
back to the PD, dropped off my work car, told the patrol supervisor of my situation, and went

home. My wife and I then proceeded to my parents home, well, make that now my moms
home, and we met up with the rest of my extended family who were gathered there to mourn
together. My wife drove us to my moms house. I was too upset to drive there. I did manage to
drive home later that night though.

This was all so new to me. I never knew three of my grandparents as they all died before
I was born. The one I did know, my moms mom, was still alive and doing relatively well, even
into her 90s. I had really never lost anyone close to me before, and now at 25 years of age, I was
about to bury my dad.
Damn! Why didnt I call him early that Sunday morning after the burglary detail?
Would it have made a difference? Would it have somehow put him in a better mood and maybe
delayed his condition, whatever it was?
And, damn, again! Why wasnt I with my dad at the hospital the day he died? Would it
have made a difference if I had been there?
Maybe if I had called that Sunday morning
Maybe if I had been with him that Saturday afternoon
But, not meant to be, on either count.
The viewing and funeral was a few days later. The funeral director wanted to do it on
March 13, but as that would have been my dads 75th birthday, we decided against it. We
decided to do everything, viewing, funeral Mass, and burial, on the morning of March 14.

Interestingly, there was a long-planned charity basketball game at one of the local
Bensalem middle school gyms between the BPD officers and some of the Philadelphia Eagles

players on March 13, the night before my dads funeral. I had signed up to play in it months
before. I all but decided I wasnt going to play. But, after talking to my sisters, two of whom
bought tickets for them, their husbands, and their kids in advance, I decided to go and play that
evening. It turned out to be a welcome stress reliever if I ever needed one.
The Eagles kicked our butts that night in front of a full gym of people, with much of the
crowd cheering on the football players. That was okay though, since we were the big, bad cops
who arrested people and wrote them tickets and the Eagles were the ones about to go to the
Super Bowl.
Nonetheless, I did score a few baskets during the game. I dedicated the game, in silence
and to myself, to my dad. Knowing Wally, he would have wanted me to go and play that night.
He also would have been proud of the driving left-handed hook shot I scored over Eagles wide
receiver Rodney Parker. Although, I think Parker still wound up scoring a dozen points that
night. So much for my defensive skills on the court against this particular pro athlete.

Back to the grim reality of that week for my family, the following morning, obviously,
was very tough for us. The viewing was held at a funeral parlor in Olney at 5th St. and Grange
Ave., only a few blocks from where my sisters and I were raised. Ironically, in at least one way,
it was right across the street from the Lowell School basketball courts, where I had spent so
much time as a teenager playing that particular game, and I suppose practicing that hook shot
that I made so eloquently the night before. Its strange how disparate worlds in ones life come
together sometimes.
Returning to that morning, once the viewing was complete, the director escorted the
coffin and our immediate family to a back room to say our final goodbyes to our dad and, in my

moms case, husband. We were advised that if before the coffin was to be closed we wanted to
say any prayers, final words, and/or place any keepsakes or personal items inside the coffin, to
be buried forever with Wally, now was the time to do so. I was not necessarily familiar with this
custom and did not come prepared for it. In any event, after saying a few very personal words, I
believe my three sisters placed some small articles, including pictures, letters, holy cards, etc.,
next to our dad. As they were doing so, I began thinking about what is it that I could leave with
him.
What did I have on me that would make sense in this regard? What would be meaningful
to both me and him? And, it couldnt be just some trinket, but something relevant as to who I
was, who he was, and what we meant to each other.
As my sisters and mom left the back room, and the undertakers staff started moving into
the general area, it hit me. Once it came to me, it was a no-brainer. And its something Ive
never regretted.
After my mom and three sisters left the room, I remained for just a minute or so with my
dad and his still open coffin. The parlor staff was milling in the background awaiting my
departure. In those few seconds, I found myself thinking a thousand thoughts, from the past, the
present and even into the future, all related to me and my dad and our relationship over the years,
to include what Ill now be missing with his loss. But, perhaps we could maintain a link of some
sort, an inter-connection of which only he and I would be aware. Selfishly, perhaps it would
serve to benefit me. And thats when I thought of it, and thats when I did it.
In an almost instinctive move, I reached into my suit jackets inner pocket and I pulled
out my wallet. I flipped it open, as I had done many times over the past few years when
identifying myself to others for various professional reasons. There, shining brightly, like almost

new, was my BPD badge, issued to me at the PSP Academy on graduation day a few years
before. Pulling it out this time though was going to be different. I wasnt interested in
identifying myself, arresting someone, or anything related to my official work duties. Instead, I
wanted to give it to my dad for, well, I guess eternity. I wanted to deputize him, right there
and then, to watch over me and keep me out of harms way during the rest of my career, on
whatever path it may take me.
With these thoughts all simultaneously running through my head, I reflexively unhooked
the badges pin from its leather holder, removed it, and placed it alongside my dad in one simple
movement. While placing my now badge-less wallet back in my suit pocket, I whispered to him
the last words that would ever be spoken to him.
You gave me my first badge as a kid, the pretend one. Now Im giving you this, a real
one. Please protect me when Im out there, wherever I am, will ya? I love you, Dad. Goodbye.
With those very emotional words, and a wipe or two of my eyes with my suit sleeves, I
nodded to the funeral parlor workers that I was done and they could shut my dads coffin once
and for all. I watched them do so and slowly start to move the coffin out toward the rear exit of
the place, toward a ramp and into the hearse. The cop part of me made sure that they actually
sealed the lid of the coffin for good. I had heard or read that sometimes there are funeral parlor
workers who steal items from the coffins right after the family places them in there. That didnt
happen here, I assure you.

As for the rest of my dads service that mid-March day, I learned firsthand how difficult
it could be when its your loved one being put to rest. Now it was my turn to get through one of
these. But, as far as funeral services went, it was an impressive sendoff to a good man who

lived an unassuming but relevant life. He left a legacy of four children and a still growing cadre
of grandchildren who loved him very much too.
I realized later that day that I had to shift concerns to my mom now. I had to make sure
Alma (remember, my mom and my middle-sister have the same first names) was going to be all
right. I drove her back to her 3rd Street home that night and made sure she was okay spending
the night there. Each of her four children offered to have her spend the night with them, at their
respective homes, but she respectfully declined. This was her home, she said, and this is where
she wanted to stay, this night and from now on. And she did, for the foreseeable future, to her
credit.
My sisters and I would certainly continue to keep a close eye on Alma then and over the
next decade, and she appreciated it. Even though the memories of her life with my dad were still
vivid, she knew she had to move on. Part of what helped her overcome her sadness was the fact
that her youngest, her only son, was about to become a father. That event was coming up soon,
and like my wife and I, she was anxiously anticipating it.

I should add here that I did, in fact, own a second BPD badge. I had bought it a year or
so earlier just in case I ever lost the original one. I knew at the funeral parlor when I decided
with virtually no aforethought to place the badge I carry every day inside my dads coffin, that I
did have the spare which could replace this one. So, when I did go back to work a day or two
later, I had a badge to show to anyone who may be interested including, most importantly, to
someone I was about to arrest.
Hey, I wasnt stupid, and my dad wouldnt have wanted me to be badge-less in
Bensalem, especially during an arrest scenario.

I never did replace that badge I gave my dad. I used my backup badge for the next few
years and it worked just fine. My next BPD badge, only a few years away from me attaining it,
would be different, and in a few ways.

In closing, if my dads death reflected my own personal worst of times in early


1979, it was most definitely the best of times later that year. Thats when my first son
was born. His given name would be Sean Wallace Fitzgerald. The name Sean, and the
traditional way in which we chose to spell it, was an artifact of my wifes and my trip to Ireland
the year before. Obviously, the choosing of Wallace as my new sons middle name was a
tribute to my dad and his meaning to me.
Sean Wallace and my dad never met, but by carrying his middle name for life it would be
a constant reminder to me of my dad, and his importance to my life. Now it was my turn to be
important in MY sons (and two future sons) life in similar ways.
That too, I learned from my dad.