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Following Fitz 

Remembering Dan Fitzgerald

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There’s an American, a Canadian and an Irishman: They go into a bar. The American gets a beer, and a fly buzzes down and lands right in it. He asks the bartender for a new brew. The Canadian gets a beer, and a fly buzzes down and lands right in it. He flicks the little pest out of his foam and guzzles it down. The Irishman gets a beer, and a fly buzzes down and lands right in it. The Irishman plucks him out by his wings, pulls his little bug eyes even with his own and says, “OK, ya little bastard, spit it out!”

That’s a classic Dan Fitzgerald joke, retold over the weekend by Mark Rypien at a fundraiser for his Rypien Foundation — a charity Coach Fitz helped to start after Rypien’s son Andrew was taken by childhood cancer. With Dan’s wife, Darleen, right in front, an emotional Rypien dedicated the evening to Fitz’s memory.

The time is pretty ripe for remembering Fitz — it’s March Madness, St. Patrick’s season and Inlander readers have awarded him, in a landslide, a posthumous Best Of award for Best Community Volunteer.

I’ll never forget the time we published a cover story on Dan Fitzgerald, before his final season of coaching. It went to press on Nov. 19, 1996 — aka, Ice Storm. It was a miracle that our printer didn’t lose power; the issue hit the frozen streets on time.

“If all a kid gets here is an education and he plays basketball, then we haven’t done a good job,” Fitz reflected in that story. “To not evolve socially, if we haven’t helped them do that, especially at this crucial stage of their lives, then we haven’t done what we should. For me, when it all comes down to it, what I do for a living is teach school.”

After basketball, Fitz continued to be a force, helping lead an impressive list of organizations, from the American Cancer Society and Coaches vs. Cancer, to the Martin Luther King Sports Outreach Program, the Bring It Foundation and the Rypien Foundation, to name only a few. At Northern Quest Casino, he helped the Kalispel Tribe connect and support even more worthy causes, including Meals on Wheels, the Union Gospel Mission, the Ronald McDonald House and Cougs of Color.

“We have a responsibility,” Fitzgerald once said, “no matter what our calling, to make it a better place.” If we had a category for Best Simple Message Never To Forget, Fitz would have won that, too. 

Ted S. McGregor Jr. is the Editor and Publisher of The Inlander.

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