Bintou, age 9
Waly, age 9
“An unidentified man, believed to be a transient, was struck and killed Saturday night on southbound Highway 101 near the downtown Santa Rosa exit,” read a brusque news item in a Santa Rosa, Calif., paper last Dec. 18. By Dec. 25, the reporter would have a larger and much more remarkable story to tell. By the 26th, that Christmas day story would be “most read” and “most emailed” on the paper’s website.
The man’s name was Kevin Christopher Fitzgerald, and he was much more than “a transient.” At 57, Fitzgerald had battled mental illness for most of his adult life, for years living either on the street or in rehab and unable to hold a job, his only income $600 a month in disability.
Fitzgerald was also a ChildFund sponsor of two children. Waly and Bintou, both 9, live in Senegal. Fitzgerald began sending the monthly $56 to sponsor the pair — nearly 10 percent of his meager income — in March 2009.
If you’d met him on the street, you wouldn’t have pegged Kevin Fitzgerald as homeless. He was always clean-shaven and scrupulous about his clothes and hygiene. “But then you would realize something was a little bit off,” says his younger sister Linda Trowbridge.
A mother of two, who also lives in Santa Rosa, Trowbridge had known of the ChildFund sponsorships for a while because Fitzgerald sometimes needed her help to manage the logistics of purchasing and then sending the monthly money orders. “It was very important to him that these children were taken care of and that he had some part in it,” she says. “He was very proud of them. He showed me their pictures and was very excited.”
Kevin Fitzgerald with family on Christmas day several years ago.
She and Fitzgerald’s other two sisters, Kathleen Fitzgerald-Orr and Becky Kough, will continue the sponsorships. “We decided we were going to honor him and take care of these children,” says Trowbridge. For that purpose, the sisters have set up a fund to continue the sponsorships, requesting donations to the fund in lieu of flowers. “We have enough to keep it going for a while, and then we’ll keep it up ourselves,” she says. The sisters are excited about entering this new relationship with the children.
Throughout Fitzgerald’s turbulent life, his care for others never wavered. “He was the most unselfish, giving person I ever met,” Trowbridge remembers. “It made him happy to do little things for people. He would come to my house, and the first thing he would ask would be, ‘Linda, did you save your dishes for me to do?’ Or, ‘Can I mow your lawn?’”
Others recognized his generosity, as well. One entry in the online guest book attached to Fitzgerald’s obituary reads, “My lady and I knew Kevin for years and whether it was his tobacco, money, medicine or even a blanket in the park on the coldest of nights he always, always shared anything and everything he had.”
Kevin Fitzgerald may have had difficulty following through on his own behalf, but he always found ways to keep his commitment to his sponsored children, and now his sisters and others will carry it forward.
Her voice tired, Trowbridge says, “Kevin was very humble — very shy — and would hate all the attention.” She pauses, then continues, her voice firm: “I don’t care. We are very proud of our brother. I hope that what he did will encourage others to give to those less fortunate.”
And one day, when Waly and Bintou are a bit older, says Trowbridge, she’ll tell them about “the man who sponsored them and cared about them.”