Jim Fitzgerald, a longtime Associated Press writer and editor in New York who helped shape the news service’s coverage of stories from terror attacks to the evolving landscape of aging, died yesterday. He was 66.
Fitzgerald, who worked for the AP for 43 years before retiring in December, had been fighting leukemia for more than a year and a half. He died at a New York hospital, said his wife, Ellen Nimmons, a manager at AP’s headquarters.
During decades of covering New York City’s northern suburbs and editing local and national stories, Fitzgerald was known for handling some of the top news of the day with a can-do demeanor, professionalism, fairness and grace. His trademark answer to an everyday “How are you?”: “Never better.”
In a telling measure of Fitzgerald’s generosity and commitment, the New York journalism organization Society of the Silurians honored him in 2014 with its Peter Kihss Award, which recognizes distinguished reporters who mentor younger colleagues.
With that award, he told the group, “I have made it to the big time.”
Fitzgerald joined the AP in New York in 1973, writing stories for radio and TV use. He moved on to what was then called the General Desk, editing stories for national and international distribution and helping supervise coverage of major news — and meeting Nimmons.
Shortly before their 1982 wedding, Fitzgerald began working in the New York City bureau as the day supervisor, the point person editing many city stories and making sure the bureau was on top of breaking news. And there would be plenty of it, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000.
Eight years later, he would help cover the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, telling the stories of survivors and others. By then, he was the AP’s correspondent in the city’s north suburbs, an appointment made in 1996.
From his base in Westchester County, Fitzgerald covered the controversial Indian Point power plant, train crashes, a major federal housing segregation case and more.
He “brought us characters in government with all our blemishes,” but “we always knew we’d get a fair reporting,” said former Westchester District Attorney and judge Jeanine Pirro. She said Fitzgerald’s work made an impact on “how the public viewed good and evil and how they perceived the delivery of justice in our world, causing them to become engaged in the fight.”
In recent years, Fitzgerald staked out a popular beat on aging. A reporter who loved the writing part of the job, he went beyond statistics and policy to report on deeply personal, often thought-provoking aspects of growing old.
He told of senior citizens buddying up as roommates for not only savings but also for safety; “Death Cafe” gatherings of people seeking to talk comfortably about life’s end; elderly drug addicts and the delicate problems involved in treating them; a “night camp” for dementia victims who don’t sleep after dark; and the touching, funny, sometimes snarky messages people leave behind in prewritten obituaries.
A Bronx native and graduate of Manhattan College, Fitzgerald also was a New York Yankees fan, so loyal that he always took off work on their home opening day to be at the game.
In addition to his wife, survivors include their daughters, Bridget Fitzgerald of Mount Vernon and Caitlin Fitzgerald of Pelham, three sisters and two brothers; another brother died recently.