WASHINGTON, DC— In 1957, Wham-O produced the first Frisbee, the “Little Rock Nine” were provided safe passage to school by federal troops and Richard “Fitz” Fitzgerald began as a full-time employee on Mt. Hood National Forest. Three years earlier, he had started as a seasonal employee, but he was now a junior forester, working on timber sale preparation and contracts, planting trees and designing roads on three different ranger districts.
On April 9, the Chief’s Office celebrated Fitzgerald’s 61 years with the Forest Service. Interim Chief Vicki Christiansen kicked off the event and presented Fitzgerald with a plaque from the agency recognizing his length of service, wryly noting there wasn’t a template for a 60-year award, as well as a certificate from Secretary Perdue. The interim Chief shared highlights from Fitzgerald’s career, including that he has been with the agency for over half its existence and served under 11 chiefs, at which point he corrected her — 11 Chiefs and one interim.
Several others spoke as well, including National Forest System Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon, who “pinned” Fitzgerald with a specially designed 60-year pin. She then said that a pin didn’t seem like enough for 60 years, and stepped aside so members of Forest Management could affix pins to his lapels that represented his service in five-year increments.
The director of Forest Management, Allen Rowley, made a very special presentation. He presented the inaugural Fitzgerald Excellence in Forest Management award to its namesake. Going forward, the award will be presented to a new employee each year.
Fitzgerald spoke last, thanking the people with whom he has worked, and noting that one highlight of his career was the opportunity to meet Thornton Munger, who began with the Forest Service in 1908.
Fitzgerald was born in 1935 at a Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Massachusetts. He attended the University of Maine at Orono (back then, the only outpost of the university) to pursue his degree in forestry. He went cross-country to see the “mountains and big trees” of the Pacific Northwest, and he stayed for more than 20 years. Among the many roles in his career, Fitzgerald has served as a fire lookout, a district ranger and regional silviculturist for two regions, the Pacific Northwest and Southern. Over the years, he has mentored hundreds of employees.