James V. Fitzgerald dies at 87By Julia Scott
James V. Fitzgerald, creator of the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and a longtime San Mateo County Supervisor, died on Monday. He was 87.
Fitzgerald's work on the Board of Supervisors, on which he served from 1960 to 1980, impacted every corner of San Mateo County. In addition to protecting a unique tidepool region in Moss Beach now called the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, he was instrumental in creating San Pedro Valley Park in Pacifica, San Bruno Mountain State and County Park, Wunderlich Park in Woodside and Junipero Serra Park in San Bruno. He also helped establish the Coyote Point marina and rifle range.
Born in San Francisco on Sept. 8, 1919, Fitzgerald attended Galileo High School and took over his father's real estate and insurance business when he married Jean, his wife of 63 years. The couple moved to San Bruno in the late 1940s and had two sons and a daughter, Jim, Christopher and Susan.
Fitzgerald was elected to the San Bruno City Council in 1951, where he served for nine years before beginning his term on the Board of Supervisors. In 1980, voters replaced him with Jackie Speier.
An avid scuba diver and snorkeler, Fitzgerald took action to protect the delicate marine reef at Moss Beach that later became his namesake after a team of marine biologists from Stanford University approached him about protecting the area in 1969. Back then, the site was overrun with visitors who would steal starfish and other pieces of sea life to take home with them, and motorcyclists who sped over the bluffs above.
"I can remember going out there as a kid. We would dive for abalone. The clarity of the water there really struck him ... maybe that was his inspiration," said his son, Christopher Fitzgerald.
Those who knew Fitzgerald politically described him as a fiscal conservative and a pragmatist who balanced the needs of the environment and controlled development.
"He was straightforward with his decisions. He wasn't a bit wishy-washy, and he expressed himself very clearly," said Bill Royer, who served on the Board of Supervisors with Fitzgerald from 1973 to 1979 before being elected to a term in Congress.
Fitzgerald's eldest son, Jim, said several people urged him to seek higher office throughout his career, but he always refused.
"He thought he could make more of a difference in San Mateo County," said Jim.
Preserving open space was important to Fitzgerald, but he wasn't one to stand in the way of progress when he deemed it important. He was part of a slim majority of supervisors who voted to replace the Dumbarton Bridge in the late 1970s, overriding objections from environmentalists who were attached to the two-lane drawbridge that preceded it. He was also part of a controversial vote to build a four-lane bypass highway near Devil's Slide on Highway 1, but the decision was overturned by a subsequent group of supervisors.
"He had a knack of seeing through things when other board members couldn't," said Royer.
Jim Fitzgerald described his father in much the same terms.
"He was a great dad. He had the amazing ability to listen to what was, from your perspective, a difficult and complex emotional problem. He could just cut right through it and simplify. He saw things very clearly," he said.
Jim loved his father's dry, teasing sense of humor. He said he never lost his temper and was completely invested in his children's success.
Pleasing his father meant a lot to Jim. He barely ever refused to take a piece of advice from him - even when he disagreed with it.
"I respected him," he said. "My dad really was the kind of guy who would lead people up the hill. He led by example."
Fitzgerald relished taking long bike rides along the coast and all over San Mateo County with his wife Jean, who died last year. They also traveled the world together, boarding Pan-Am's inaugural flight from San Francisco to Tokyo.
"They were this totally in-love couple," said Jim. "He was 80 years old, and he would pat her on the butt."
In later years, the two continued to pay regular visits to the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. They ate lunch at their regular table by the window at the Miramar Beach Restaurant with its view of the ocean, and often spent the night at the nearby Seal Cove Inn, where the commemorative James V. Fitzgerald suite still holds a portrait of the happy couple on their bicycles.
Fitzgerald is survived by his three children and one granddaughter, Jordan. No public services are planned for him at this time.
Copyright ©2006 San Mateo County Times. Published 11/10/2006.