NORTH CENTER — Garrett FitzGerald, executive director of the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce, passed away Saturday after a battle with cancer.
FitzGerald, 39, had announced in January 2013 that he'd been diagnosed with an inoperable Stage IV brain tumor.
"It's a tough hand I've been dealt here. But I'm going to fight it with everything I've got," he said at the time.
Even while undergoing experimental treatment, FitzGerald remained a constant presence at the chamber's office.
"I give him credit for showing up to work every day," said Simon Stein, a past president of the chamber and close friend of FitzGerald's.
On a professional level, Stein called FitzGerald a "brilliant strategic thinker" with an astounding talent for networking.
"He put people together and magic would happen," Stein said.
Former Ald. Gene Schulter (47th), FitzGerald's employer before he moved on to the chamber, credited FitzGerald for turning the once-sleepy chamber into a vibrant force.
"He had a real commitment to the neighborhood. He worked tirelessly to make North Center a great neighborhood to live in, to raise a family," said Schulter.
Schulter also remembered his former aide as a compassionate man with an "instinct of always wanting to help people."
"He certainly will be missed," said Schulter.
Heartfelt condolences poured in online to honor FitzGerald, leader of the Northcenter Chamber since 2006.
Joe Burke, a former member of the chamber's board, posted to Facebook: "The Pope of Rib Town lived life to the fullest, and I don't know anyone who could keep up. He made public service fun. And, he knew how important it was to contribute."
Warren Silver, chairman of the chamber's special service area commission, offered a lengthy tribute to FitzGerald, also via Facebook.
"He built the membership of the Chamber, made its events interesting and fun, and turned a boring me-too street fair on Lincoln Avenue into RIBFEST - the biggest, most popular festival in the City outside of Taste of Chicago," Silver's post read.
"Garrett made Northcenter what it is today, and our community owes him an enormous debt of gratitude. He loved his City, he loved the 47th Ward, and he loved Northcenter. And Northcenter, and 47, and the City love you back, buddy. Rest well."
FitzGerald's sense of fun and zest for life are what Stein said he'll miss most.
"He was a bon vivant, he loved to eat and drink," said Stein. "He was my guy, rain or shine. You could call him anytime and he'd meet you in 10 minutes."
"The thing Garrett enjoyed most was fellowship. He craved fellowship — he loved telling stories and he loved hearing stories," Stein said.
FitzGerald essentially built the chamber's most successful activities around his hobbies — barbecue and music, said Stein.
During North Center's summer concerts, "just for the hell of it, Garrett started grilling hot dogs and giving them away," Stein recalled.
"One night, he took it upon himself to make spicy curried goat" for concertgoers, Stein recounted.
Dyed-in-the-wool Irish, FitzGerald had never attempted curry before, but he found a recipe — and fresh goat.
"Who the hell does that?" asked Stein. "But it was delicious."
FitzGerald is survived by his wife Alicia Johnson FitzGerald and their daughter Bridget.
Visitation is open to the public and has been scheduled for 3-9 p.m. Friday at Grein Funeral Directors, 2114 W. Irving Park Rd. A funeral mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Benedict's Church, 2215 W. Irving Park Rd.
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