Friends mourn loss of trainer

‘Fitzie’ remembered as prankster.

By: Rebecca Tokarz
   Thomas J. Fitzpatrick was known for his practical jokes and fun-loving antics while working at the old township high school as an athletic trainer.
   Known to his peers and students as "Fitzie," Mr. Fitzpatrick didn’t seem to mind when his co-workers retaliated against their friend during his 25 years in the district.
   "He always had a sense of humor about him. There were so many silly games we used to play against each other," said Carolyn Massey with a chuckle. "We used to tape his glasses to his magazines and one day turned all his photos in his office up-side-down. We had such a good time and we were grown-ups."
   Mr. Fitzpatrick, 59, died Monday at the Compassionate Care Hospice Center of St. Francis in Trenton.
   Born in Cornwall Hospital, Cornwall, N.Y., Mr. Fitzpatrick was raised in Highland Falls, N.Y., before moving to Hamilton Square 30 years ago.
   After graduating from Highland Falls, he attended a training course at the Gus Mauche School for Trainers in Kissimmee, Fla.
   Mr. Fitzpatrick worked in the South Brunswick School District as an athletic trainer for 25 years, spending time at the old South Brunswick High School, now known as Crossroads South on Georges Road and completing his tenure in the district at the middle school.
   Ms. Massey, a former girls basketball coach, said she could never get away from "Fitzie" and his jokes and he would sit in his office and call her by her maiden name over and over again.
   "He would just call ‘Smitty,’ " she said, adding that even after her marriage, the name stuck. Her husband was even dubbed Mr. Smitty.
   Physical education and health teacher John Coppola said his friend always had an open medical magazine on his desk to make it look like he was busy.
   Mr. Fitzpatrick also spent a great deal of time on the telephone. To get back at Mr. Fitzpatrick for one of his antics, his co-workers hid his phone in the freezer.
   One day, they glued the receiver to the phone and had someone call Mr. Fitzpatrick’s extension, Mr. Coppola said.
   "He’d always say something like ‘You guys! I’m gonna get back at you,’ " Mr. Coppola said.
   As an athletic trainer, he had a strong relationship with the athletes and continued to use his sense of humor even when a student was injured.
   "He would always hold up four fingers — no matter what the injury — and ask them how many fingers he was holding up. When they answered ‘four,’ he would say ‘no, it’s three,’ " Ms. Massey said.
   Following his high school graduation, Mr. Fitzpatrick worked as an athletic trainer for the Detroit Tigers farm team and also worked for the West Point Military Academy. He was associated with Princeton University’s hockey team and worked as an athletic trainer for the U.S. Olympic Baseball team in the South Korea games and for the New Haven Nighthawks hockey team in the World Hockey Association.
   He also served as athletic trainer for Mercer County Community College from 1974 to 1979.
   "He was a fun-loving guy who was never in a bad mood," said high school wrestling coach Joe Dougherty. "He was good with the kids. His famous quote was ‘Put some ice on it,’ " he said.
   Although he coaches the high school team, Mr. Dougherty teaches at Crossroads South and said he’s constantly reminded of his friend.
   "Every time I see that training room, the first thing I think of is Tom and the U.S. flags," he said of the Mr. Fitzpatrick’s memorabilia from coaching an Olympic baseball team.
   Mr. Fitzpatrick was also a communicant of Our Lady of Sorrows R.C. Church. He was a member of the Hamilton Elks Lodge 2262, its Crippled Children’s Committee and also a member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.
   Mr. Fitzpatrick enjoyed golf, skiing, sailing, hockey and traveling.
   His parents, John and Helen Fitzpatrick are deceased. He is survived by his daughter and son-in-law, Kelly and Joseph LaCava of Robbinsville; a son, Kenneth Fitzpatrick of Hamilton; his former wife, Carol Morea of Hamilton; his close companion, Diane Kashtaniuk of Robbinsville; a sister, Maureen Rowell of Charlestown, N.H.; a brother, John B. Fitzpatrick of Ocean City; and nieces, nephews and cousins.
   A funeral mass will be held 10:30 a.m. Saturday from Our Lady of Sorrows R.C. Church, 3816 E. State St., Ext., Mercerville. Interment will follow in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Hamilton. Visiting hours will be held at the Saul Colonial Home, 3795 Nottingham Way, Hamilton Square from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m.
   Contributions can be made in Mr. Fitzpatrick’s memory to the American Cancer Society, Mercer County Chapter, 3076 Princeton Pike, Lawrenceville, N.J. 08648-2304.