The Man behind the Curtain: Brian Fitzpatrick

By RACHEL COLEMAN

Photos by JOHN KIDD

 

“I know I must have looked really surprised, because I was speechless—a rare moment in my life,” said Brian Fitzpatrick.

People behind the scenes often go unrecognized for their contributions—not because they’re unappreciated, but because they hide from the limelight and must be tricked into standing at center stage—or posing for the cover photo of a magazine.

In Montgomery, Fitzpatrick is the man behind the curtain, helping many village events become runaway hits.  This fall he will be honored as the grand marshal for the General Montgomery Day Parade.  Possibly the last to know about this turn of events, Fitzpatrick was shocked when a friend and co-worker congratulated him.

Fitzpatrick admitted he would have declined had he known earlier.  Not because he didn’t appreciate the honor, but rather from “the anxiety of knowing in my heart that my recognition for any village achievements, contributions or dedication to this community was never possible without being surrounded by an amazing network of individuals, too many to name, who share the same passion and love that I have for this village.”

When interviewed, he hoped to include the name of every volunteer and business owner in Montgomery and wanted to include a select few in his photo.

“Can we put 150 people on the cover?” asked Fitzpatrick.

While Fitzpatrick didn’t grow up in the village of Montgomery, you’d never guess it today.  He is an essential thread woven into the colorful tapestry of the village, a part of its history and what it is today.  He is even featured in the wall mural at the local Walden Savings Bank.  He wasn’t consulted on that one either.

“I was working and people were texting me when they opened up the first day,” said Fitzpatrick, relating his confusion over the messages telling him that he was ‘in the bank wall’ and his dash over to stare at it, dumbfounded.  “I’ll never forget it.”

His photo as president of the Town of Montgomery Chamber of Commerce presenting their first business of the month award was chosen out of hundreds of photos spanning 200 years of village history.

“I was always just an equal person at the table.  I wasn’t a chairperson. I’d go to every meeting, I’d volunteer to help, and that’s what I did,” said Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick grew up in the Bronx and moved with his family to the Pine Bush School District in 1973.

“It was my senior year in high school and quite a traumatic year for me, but it turned out to be the year that would begin a life journey that to this very day, exceeded every expectation I ever thought possible about what the future would hold for me,” said Fitzpatrick.

Two months after his graduation, Fitzpatrick was hired by George Low, the Pine Bush Postmaster for the U.S. Postal Service.

“And so my career begins at 18 years old, working for one of the most charismatic, dedicated, hard-working and community-minded citizens I had ever met in my entire life,” said Fitzpatrick.  “That legacy of George Low still continues to echo through the streets of Pine Bush.”

Fitzpatrick said George Low was an incredible person, a tremendous role model and an inspiration.  At the post office, he was a dedicated person with a great sense of humor and “everybody loved working for him.” Fitzpatrick said he learned a lot from him.

“That same year in October, I made the single most important decision of my life and married my high school sweetheart, best friend and love of my life 44 years later, Charlene,” said Fitzpatrick.  “One of my closest friends always said [she] should be canonized a saint for putting up with me.”

Two years later, they welcomed their daughter, Alison.  At this point, Fitzpatrick said he still hadn’t stepped foot in Montgomery.

“My journey to Montgomery is one that had little planning and probably was not only the last place I thought I would end up, but honestly a place I never heard of until I started dozing off on my way home from work one morning,” said Fitzpatrick.

After exiting the highway from sheer fatigue, he was taking a back road home to Circleville when he saw a house for sale and made the instant and life-changing decision at the age of 22 to buy a house on Chandler Lane, where he still lives 40 years later.

“Despite several career opportunities to relocate, I always knew in my heart this is where my family was supposed to be,” said Fitzpatrick.

His neighbors became his lifelong best friends, raising their children, sharing their weekends trying to golf, and “creating a thousand lifetime memories.”

“It wasn’t until I retired in 2009 that I began a second life, never expecting it was far from what anyone would consider retirement, but just like my first life, I had no idea that the best was still ahead,” said Fitzpatrick.

After retiring from the U.S. Postal Service, Fitzpatrick accepted a job offer to work one day a week at the Winding Hills Golf Club in Montgomery with the Devitt family.  In less than a year, he was the new general manager and was making new friends and reconnecting with old ones.  He was having daily conversations with Marc Devitt, ranging from the future of the golf course to the men who built America and “a shared mutual vision for the village of Montgomery.”

“That relationship and those conversations created the foundation for my personal involvement in village activities,” said Fitzpatrick.  “Marc Devitt is like a brother to me.”

It wasn’t long before he was appointed president of the Town of Montgomery Chamber of Commerce, continuing to expand his circle of friends and strengthen his relationships with local businesses and municipalities.

“I’ve always felt strongly about the small businesses,” said Fitzpatrick.  “That’s the heart of Montgomery for me.”

Somewhere along the way, the “breakfast club” was formed.

“The breakfast club was started with no agenda, no mission, no purpose,” said Fitzpatrick.  “We just thought we were having breakfast, but it became something more.”

At first it was just Rich Palumbo and a couple others, but they kept adding a few more.  Today there are a couple dozen people getting together.  Fitzpatrick said it’s often the first resource tapped when an event is being planned, whether that is a concert or a car show.  Everyone is quick to step forward and volunteer.

“It’s the formal-informal network that makes up Montgomery and being part of that is just incredible,” said Fitzpatrick.

He added that word has spread about the club and people now seek them out, which makes him laugh to think that they’re “famous.”

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we’re serious about helping our community,” said Fitzpatrick.

The first big event he remembers working on was the Historic Golf Outing in 2010 to celebrate the village’s bicentennial.

“This still remains my sentimental favorite event,” said Fitzpatrick, recalling that his grandson, who was just two months old, was able to attend.  “It was such a wonderful day.”

They decided to hold it again the following year to help finance the village bandstand.

“It just rolled into another event, then another,” said Fitzpatrick.  “After that golf outing, the story just continues, with even more enthusiasm and always a passionate group of volunteers.”

Fitzpatrick is most proud of the Memorial Day Parade, which he said began with a small meeting in Pete Mathieu’s house with Rags Rosenberg, Tim Dempsey and Walt Schneider.

“The goal was to get everyone in the village involved in remembering our fallen,” said Fitzpatrick.

They went out and knocked on doors, handing out pamphlets and a small flag, and asking the public to march with them in the parade and stay for a picnic in the park.  They hoped for a hundred people and were blown away when they ended up with several hundred following them down the street.  Now they do it every year.

Next came St. Pat’s Ramble, exceeding all expectations, born out of the decision of a handful of people to have their own parade for St. Patrick’s Day.  Then someone suggested a car show and Fitzpatrick and Village Trustee Mike Hembury decided to make it happen.  This year they are holding their 5th annual car show on Sept. 23.

“Everything starts with an idea, a vision, and passion. That’s the key to everything that’s ever been accomplished,” said Brian Fitzpatrick. “Someone sees something, then it happens.  It’s what makes Montgomery so special.”

If you ask around however, it’s not the only thing that makes the village special.

“Brian has dedicated more hours to local non-profit organizations and causes than anyone I know,” Mayor Stephen Brescia stated in a newsletter the last time Fitzpatrick said he was “retiring” from his non-profit career.  He went on to describe Fitzpatrick with words like “instrumental” and “catalyst.”

Mayor Brescia explained that Fitzpatrick’s efforts have helped bring businesses and residents together, and in “large measure, our downtown revitalization owes a lot to him.”

“He is simply a selfless, benevolent, affable, courteous, fun-loving man,” said Brescia.  “We are indebted to him in more ways than the imagination will allow.”

In addition to volunteering and serving as the unofficial muse for numerous local causes and small businesses, he has also spent untold hours in countless committees—including a couple years on the Orange County Board of Ethics.  Over the years, there were hundreds of meetings, thousands of emails and more activity behind the scenes, but Fitzpatrick loved it all.

“I’m blessed to be able to do it.  I’m retired from a great career and my wife is always my biggest supporter. I would leave for ten minutes and come back two hours later,” said Fitzpatrick.

Now, despite his efforts to dodge the limelight, Fitzpatrick will head up the parade at his favorite village event, General Montgomery Day, on Sept. 8.  He has turned down the honor in the past, so the committee was forced to keep it secret until it was too late.

“No one told me. They announced it, then told me. They used my own tricks,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I absolutely love being part of what I’ve been a part of, [but] being grand marshal is uncomfortable for me.”

Fitzpatrick said he is “just the cheerleader” for those around him—a veritable army of volunteers who quietly work behind the scenes and hide from the spotlight when someone tries to aim it their way.

“Those are the people I admire,” said Fitzpatrick, explaining that each event takes a lot of people doing many tasks.  “I never did anything alone.  I was always just an equal member and a part of a network of dedicated individuals who love this village.”

Fitzpatrick said the village is improving all the time due to these efforts.  He sees growth in new businesses, restored buildings, new events and new volunteers, all while preserving and honoring the history of the village and the sense of nostalgia that makes one think they’ve walked into a storybook village.

“It’s like a movie set,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I’m blessed to be here. It’s just an unbelievable place.”

So, despite his reservations, Fitzpatrick said he is honored to be selected and going from “the Bronx kid” to grand marshal is “the highest achievement” for him.

“It is awesome. My grandchildren are so excited,” said Fitzpatrick.  “I’m so honored, so humbled. I’ll never find the right words. I’ve never felt this before.  There are so many out there that put me here, so many to thank.”

Due to space constraints, his list was omitted from this story.  As for what is next for Brian Fitzpatrick, he hasn’t decided yet.

“Like the Brett Favre of the village, despite several informal and formal attempts to retire from my volunteer role in the village, it’s always that new idea or event that calls me back,” said Fitzpatrick.  “Now I can finally retire…maybe!”

Following this interview with Fitzpatrick, it was revealed that he has been tapped to become the next village historian for Montgomery and is now training with Village Historian Marion Wild.  It is anticipated that Fitzpatrick will take the helm sometime in the village’s next fiscal year.

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