Pardon me if I’m not walking straight these days for the first time in my life. I understand now what pain my sons have been going
through since April 2003. Ms. Sally Fitzgerald, 78, my beloved mother, died February 22 during Black History Month.
Even though it’s been about two weeks, I’m still in disbelief. She was such a strong and loving mother. I never remember her being sick her entire life that I recall, and she was simply the greatest woman I’ve ever known.
She taught me everything: how to love, how to dream, how to set goals to be the best, how to give and the difference between what’s right and wrong. She taught me the value of getting an education, and not to believe everything you hear.
She taught me to be a leader and what leadership meant, and how to be responsible — how to understand who I am during a time in our nation when we as people have gone from being identified as Negro to Colored to Black or African American.
She taught me how to treat people with respect and to, by all means, keep God first in my life. She taught me how to be socially conscious. My parents took me and my brother Robert as children to march with Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. through far west Cicero, Illinois.
Sally Fitzgerald was born on Independence Day, July 4, 1933 in Natchez, Mississippi to Sam and Mattie Ware. She moved to Chicago, Illinois, in November 1951 after her fiancé bought her a train ticket and married Robert Fitzgerald, my dad, on August 10, 1952.
My dad was forced to leave Mississippi because a White man called him the “n”-word and he punched him. Remember, they use to hang us for rebelling back then. Ms. Fitzgerald was a pioneer during a dark period in American history for Blacks. She and her husband Robert established several grocery stores on Chicago’s west side.
I remember as a child all my grade-school years working at the stores after school and weekends. We were a middle-class family. I went to Our Lady of Perpetual Help; it was a Catholic school. We moved to the south side in 1969 and were members of Christian Hope Baptist Church, and we went every Sunday. I can remember dozing sometimes in church, and my mom would stick me with needles to wake me up.
My cousin Tony Pinder, my mom’s sister Daisy’s son, actually lived with us for a short time in Chicago. He moved to Minneapolis in the 1970s as an engineering placement agent.
Later, my parents launched Fitzee’s Serious Ribs and Chicken in the Englewood area on Chicago’s south side at 61st and Ashland. They also had locations in Matteson, Illinois, and the south loop on 21st and Indiana. Fitzee’s was a staple at the famous Taste of Chicago and Jazz Fest. Ms. Fitzgerald was a legend for her incredible personality and her meals — her secret recipe for her rub and barbecue sauce. She loved to see people enjoy her meals.
My, could she bake cakes that melt in your mouth with flavor, and pies and peach cobbler. Her meals became legend during the 10 Dennis Green years as Vikings head coach, which is the second most successful stretch in Vikings history. Eight playoff teams in 10 years, two NFC Championship games, and six Hall-of-Fame players — the Green years also spawned six future head coaches, two that won Super Bowls: Tony Dungy, Brian Billick, Emmitt Thomas, Tyrone Willingham, Jack Del-Rio, and Mike Tice.
During that time, Randle McDaniel, John Randle, Cris Carter, Randy Moss, Warren Moon, Chris Doleman, Joey Browner, Robert Smith and more enjoyed Ms. Fitzgerald’s Fitzee’s Barbecue, which catered the Vikings when they played the rival Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
Green told his teams only if they won could they have Ms. Fitzgerald’s ribs, chicken, steaks, hot links, pies and cakes. For the plane trip back to Minnesota, the Vikings were 7-3 on those trips.
I, the second child, was the first of my mother’s five children to graduate high school and go to college. All three of my younger siblings — one sister and two brothers — graduated from college. I was the first to do what my parents did also: go North. I moved to Minneapolis in 1978.
The National Rib Hall of Fame of Cook County, Illinois, which honors individuals and companies whose ingenuity, hard work and innovation have greatly contributed to the barbecue industry, inducted Sally Fitzgerald into the Rib Hall of Fame posthumously on March 1.
Obviously, the name Fitzgerald is now well known today because my parents gave it to me with no graffiti on it. The great life of Ms. Sally Fitzgerald and the impact she has made on this society in so many ways is now part of successful American history. Thank you, Mom, for everything.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2), and you can follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.