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Alice Fitzpatrick, Citizen of the Year

Published May 30. 2013 4:00AM

Day editorial board meetings are typically interesting but weighty affairs, focused on matters of public policy and its intersection with politics. However, on the occasions when the board has had the good fortune of hosting Alice Fitzpatrick in her capacity as president of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, the tenor shifts. With her ebullient disposition, her bright smile and an abiding confidence in the collective ability of people to do great good, Ms. Fitzpatrick is a shade lifting to let in the sunshine. You can't help but smile in return.

Yet the work her leadership of the foundation has helped make possible could not be more serious or important. It has meant the betterment of thousands of lives.

Tonight at MGM Grand at Foxwoods, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut will honor Alice Fitzpatrick as the 63rd recipient of its Citizen of the Year honor. The designation was created to recognize an outstanding person from the region who has made significant contributions to eastern Connecticut. Ms. Fitzpatrick is a most appropriate selection.

When the foundation's board hired Ms. Fitzpatrick in 1995 as its new leader, the organization had about $4 million in assets. Her mission was to grow the endowment. How did she do? Mission accomplished.

Today the endowment stands at roughly $42 million. Growth has continued even as the fund awarded about $13 million over the last several years to organizations serving the community.

The reach of the foundation has grown as well during her tenure. In 2009 the foundation, changing its name from Southeastern to Eastern, merged with the Tri-County Foundation in northeastern Connecticut. The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut now serves 42 towns, covering about one-third of the state.

"The trick is you have to bring money in the door, grow it, have enough to give some out, and keep giving good grants that inspire people to continue to give. I feel like people have caught on," Ms. Fitzpatrick told The Day earlier this year.

Oh, is that all?

It takes an exceptional individual to accomplish such an exceptional achievement as the growth of the foundation. But it also takes an exceptional person to leave a cushy corporate job in Los Angeles, working for a computer company, and join the Peace Corps for two years - at age 45. But that is what Alice Fitzpatrick did, serving in Africa in a life- and perspective-changing experience.

Back in the states, Ms. Fitzpatrick decided she wanted to work for nonprofits. The decision would eventually lead her back to her native Connecticut and, fortunately for this region, to become president of the foundation.

A few of the many notable accomplishments during her time at the helm:

• In 1999 Ms. Fitzpatrick persuaded the board to create a Women & Girls Fund, with the goal of supporting programs to help women enter or re-enter the workforce; reduce teen pregnancies and STDs; prevent domestic violence; and help single, elderly and low-income women remain in their homes. Since expanded throughout eastern Connecticut, it has awarded $2.2 million in grants.

• In 2008, to celebrate the foundation's 25th anniversary, grants totaling $1.5 million were awarded to 13 libraries to expand services and improve technology. The foundation included a $200,000 permanent endowment to continue supporting those libraries.

• She initiated "Let's Read," designed to encourage schools and organizations to come up with innovative programs to get children reading at grade level by 3rd grade.

Tonight's honor is somewhat bittersweet, because Ms. Fitzpatrick, now age 70, will soon enter retirement. She will leave her successor an organization that is strong and poised to continue growing.

The Day joins the region, the chamber, and the many individuals and groups who have benefitted by the growth of the foundation, in congratulating Alice Fitzpatrick as the 2013 Citizen of the Year recipient.

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