November 19, 1999
One morning in September 1964, Tulane's head football coach Tommy O'Boyle came to work at his office beneath Tulane Stadium. On his desk he found a note regarding his new secretary, who was to start later that morning.
It read: 'Mrs. Fitzpatrick will be here. I think if you treat her right, she might stay.'
Thirty-five years, 10 coaches and one Superdome later, Lurlyn Fitzpatrick, better known simply as Miss Fitz, is still coming in every day to work for Tulane's football coach.
"They must have treated me right," Fitzpatrick says. Ask anyone she's encountered over the years, however, and many would claim it is Miss Fitz who has been treating the coaches, players and coworkers right.
"She is definitely devoted to the coaches and the athletes," says M.L. Lagarde, associate athletic director. Lagarde has known Fitzgerald since 1970 when he was a sports writer for The Times-Picayune. "She treats all of them as if they were her sons," he says.
"I was always the mother figure," agrees Fitzpatrick. "I tell them now I'm the grandmother figure." Fitzpatrick says she began her career as the Green Wave's football matriarch to keep busy while her children were attending school.
She initially thought she would enjoy working in the bookstore. When she inquired about a job there, however, a personnel staff member asked her if she had any secretarial skills. When she answered in the affirmative, she was pointed toward the football office.
Her timing could hardly have been better, as the football office's previous secretary had left without replacement, and, with the '64 season under way, O'Boyle and his staff found they were facing a crisis. In the beginning, Miss Fitz's tasks went above and beyond the call of duty.
"Whatever they asked you to do, you did," she recalls. "You were Mother Superior. If kids had a problem they came, and you'd try to help them. I've sewed buttons. I've fixed pants. The list doesn't stop there."
She also helped many of the players with their class work before the National Collegiate Athletic Association instituted strict rules that now prevent her from doing so. "One semester, I typed 150 term papers for the boys," she says.
Liz Devlin-Ziegler, athletics program coordinator and loyal admirer of Miss Fitz, is quick to elaborate. "I think she graduated half of them just by helping them out." She adds that Fitzgerald ran the office virtually by herself, without the aid of computers, copiers or faxes.
"She's amazing. I could not have made it as a secretary in the time when she started," said Ziegler, who says she is the heir to Fitzpatrick's position but not heir to her legacy. "I can only aspire to be as great as she is," she says.
Fitzpatrick has other admirers. Greg Nelson, assistant athletic director, says, "That's a tough position. Head football coaches face a tremendous amount of pressure when they win and when they lose. She catches the pressure of that."
Throughout the years, many have tried to express thanks to the humble secretary. When she reached her 25th anniversary, the university offered her a trip to Hawaii, which she politely declined: I said, 'Thank you but no thank you. I don't like to fly. I appreciate it and all.'
Other attempts to express gratitude have been more successful, such as the scholarship started in honor of Fitzpatrick and a rather unusual induction into the Tulane Athletic Hall of Fame back in 1993. In the Wilson Athletic Center, a plate with the inscription, Mrs. Lurlyn Fitzpatrick-Administration 1964-present, resides alongside those bearing the names of football, basketball and baseball players.
Miss Fitz says she has no plans to leave her position in the near future, although she recently decreased her hours. "Everyone asks me when Im going to retire," she says. Her reply? "When it stops being fun."
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 firstname.lastname@example.org