Gigi Fitzpatrick, devoted to senior causes, dies at 58; services March 14

Gigi Fitzpatrick and Sara Paul spearheaded the Golden Prom, where high-school students arranged an evening with dancing, dining and socializing with area seniors. (file photo)
Gigi Fitzpatrick and Sara Paul spearheaded the Golden Prom, where high-school students arranged an evening with dancing, dining and socializing with area seniors. (file photo)

For nearly 25 years, if you walked into the Gladstone Senior Center, you’d likely hear Gigi Fitzpatrick conversing enthusiastically with someone, be greeted by her bright smile or feel the rush of air as she hurried out to fill in for a Meals on Wheels driver.

Whatever the task, Fitzpatrick, 58, took it on with energy and optimism backed by a firm resolve to do anything she could for seniors.

After a career engaged in helping her elders, Fitzpatrick herself didn’t make it far into her senior years. She died Feb. 19 after taking about four months off from the senior center to battle leukemia.

Gay Hendricks, former community education director at the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School District, recalled by phone hiring Fitzpatrick, then going by her maiden name, Ellingwood, for the position in 1991.

At the time, Fitzpatrick had worked with the Senior Companions program in Minneapolis since 1979. Hendricks recalls much of that work was one-on-one with seniors, but Fitzpatrick’s intelligence and drive foreshadowed her ability to take on the District 622 program and grow it.

“She was hired as our senior citizen program coordinator. This was overseeing numerous senior citizen programs — a huge variety of things,” Hendricks recalls. “She did a marvelous, marvelous job — she expanded the program and, during the numerous times our funding was in jeopardy, whether for Meals on Wheels or the other programs we were trying to support, she was dogged in pursuing grants and outside funding to keep them going.”

Senior programs when Fitzpatrick arrived included communal dining lunches at the center, Meals on Wheels deliveries, educational, musical, artistic and health programs at the center and a variety of outside events such as casino or scenic tours.

Though Fitzpatrick was in her mid-30s when she was hired for 622, Hendricks could see she could more than bridge the gap with the groups and individuals she worked with.

“She had a wonderful, wonderful way of dealing with older people,” Hendricks recalls. “She was so ingratiating and warm and just had that personality they were comfortable with.”

Anne Fosburgh of Maplewood was active participating in and photographing senior center events when Fitzpatrick arrived, and says, “I remember her as being the most friendly person and [she] did a lot for seniors.  She always remembered them by name ... and made every senior feel welcome.”

As Fosburgh recalls, Fitzpatrick took the initiative to provide any program she or others could think of that would benefit seniors, and was especially attuned to bringing generations together.

“She had the kids from the junior high come in and play Bingo with the seniors - she liked to have the kids meet the seniors and help them.” From there, high-schoolers were invited in to play cards with their elders, where many a teen math whiz found himself outbid and outmaneuvered by his veteran companions.

Fosburgh says — and many area seniors and Tartan grads will agree — Fitzpatrick’s greatest achievement was the “Golden Prom.” She and Tartan teacher Sara Paul headed the initiative to offer a spring “prom” for seniors, with their music and dancing but with the added element of high-school students, who helped organize and set up the event and served and escorted the seniors when they arrived.

The event became so popular it outgrew the Tartan cafeteria and had to be moved, appropriately, to the Prom Center in Oakdale. Now it includes a meal, dancing, Bingo, prize drawings and draws on both North and Tartan students to be its young hosts.

“Gigi worked hard to make a senior’s life more comfortable and enjoyable,” Fosburgh says. “She will be sadly missed by all who knew her.”

True to Fitzpatrick’s mission to help all seniors — and especially to offer a check-in and conversation to those who are homebound — memorials are asked to go to Gladstone Meals on Wheels, 1945 Manton St., Maplewood, MN  55109.

Visitation is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14 at Bradshaw Funeral Home, 4600 Greenhaven Dr., White Bear Lake. A memorial service will begin at 3 p.m.

Fitzpatrick was preceded in death by parents Mary and Howard Ellingwood and Liz and Ray Fitzpatrick and sister-in-law Pat Rietfort.

She is survived by her husband Jim, sisters Kay and Sue, twin sister Molly, sister-in-law Nancy and brother-in-law Jerry as well as extended family.

 

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