Perhaps because he grew up in the South End with four sisters, Maurice “Fitzy” Fitzgerald was always decorous around women.
But he was a tough guy. One of the last of the tough guys. A war hero who feared no one. Even the wiseguys were wary of crossing him.
He hated bigots and bullies but loved everybody else.
He was of a Boston that doesn’t exist anymore. He knew cops and criminals and politicians in equal measure, when it wasn’t unusual for one family to have all three.
When the Korean War broke out, he got his mother to sign papers so he could leave Boston English and enlist in the Marine Corps at 17. He fought in the epic, frozen battle on the Chosin Reservoir.
He received awards for his bravery, including a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
But as proud as he was of his service and fellow Marines, “the experience left him deeply suspicious of political motives for military action, and it would define him for life, politically and philosophically," his son Paul said.
Those views crystallized during a long stay at Bethesda Naval Hospital recovering from war. When he came back to Boston, he was a different man.
“He became a vocal liberal, largely motivated by the institutionalized racism and class exploitation he witnessed while in the service,” Paul Fitzgerald said.
“There were no rich kids in my foxhole,” Maurice Fitzgerald liked to say.
He joined Local 4 and became a crane operator, working on some of Boston’s iconic buildings, including the Pru. He met a woman named Catherine Koch at Blinstrub’s in South Boston. They got married in 1954 and raised six kids in Dorchester.
Maurice Fitzgerald carried a union card for 60 years and stuck up for working men and women, no matter who they were or what they looked like.
According to his family and friends, there are two stories that, in particular, illustrate the kind of person he was.
Back in the day, when it was unsafe for a Black man to walk around South Boston, Maurice was mentoring an up-and-coming young Black boxer. Maurice walked into the Eire Pub in Dorchester and began pointing at construction workers sitting at the bar.
“You, you, you, and you,” he said. “Follow me.”
Without so much as an explanation, they jumped in a car and were standing behind the Black kid’s corner, watching him spar at the Muni in Southie before it dawned on them they were unwittingly serving as deterrents to anybody who might have thought about going after the Black kid.
In the 1970s, Maurice Fitzgerald walked into Triple O’s, the bar in Southie that was Whitey Bulger’s lair, and confronted the widely-feared gangster. Whitey had given a beating to a Black guy from Local 4 over gambling debts. But it was a case of mistaken identity.
Maurice Fitzgerald told Whitey Bulger he beat up the wrong guy, that the guy can’t work and that Bulger had to fix it.
Whitey agreed to compensate the guy for lost wages.
“He wasn’t afraid of Whitey,” his daughter, Mary Fitzgerald, explained. “He wasn’t afraid of anybody.”
When they were young fathers, he and his pal Jack Kelly were having a beer at the McKeon Post in Dorchester. Kelly wistfully said he’d like to take his kids to Disney World. Maurice, Kelly recalled, bought the plane tickets without being asked and the Kelly brood went to Disney World.
His son-in-law, Jay Fleming, was dumbfounded when Maurice drove him to the back of the State House one day and parked under the arches. The state trooper guarding those precious spots, reserved for the state’s most powerful politicians, saluted Maurice.
“He knew everybody,” Fleming said.
It is often a cliche to describe someone as larger than life. But there’s no other way to describe Maurice Fitzgerald. He never met anybody or anything tougher than him, until last month, when COVID-19 took him down and took his life.
Maurice Fitzgerald was 87, a legend, and a really good man.