I first met Kevin Fitzgerald, Deputy Superintendent of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, at a Friends of the Smokies dinner in 2006. I had met Dale Ditmanson a little earlier. At the time, I was overawed by meeting and actually talking to real-live rangers, especially such top National Park Service brass.
Like a bad penny, I kept showing up at park events and Friends of the Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains Association meetings. Kevin always had a smile, a quick wit and he was willing to talk. When I wanted to confirm a fact or a decision, Kevin always answered emails with the correct information. He checked on things if he didn’t have the answer at his finger tips.
Finally I had the courage to ask if he would come to a Carolina Mountain Club hike. It would be in the Smokies, of course, but it would be on the North Carolina side. “No problem!”
He drove from his home outside of Townsend, TN on a Sunday to hike with us. See the picture above. He did this for several years including 2012. I interviewed him for National Parks Traveler, if you want to read about his career and his thoughts on working in the National Parks.
A couple of weeks ago, Kevin retired after 34 years with the National Park Service. And what a party! Of course Lenny and I went, presumably because I am on the Board of Directors of Great Smoky Mountains Association. But I wouldn’t have missed it, even if I didn’t belong to the Association.
I was impressed by the number of superintendent and retired superintendents of other national parks. Phil Francis of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Dan Brown, retired from the Parkway, were there. So was Connie Backlund, Superintendent (retired) of Carl Sandburg National Historic Home and Niki Nicholas, superintendent of Big South Fork National River. Kevin’s older brother is on his way to be superintendent of Virgin Islands National Park. OK, I was impressed.
After a nice buffet dinner, the tributes and gifts started coming: from employees, former employees, volunteers, and park partners. Some were humorous, others sounded like a public performance reviews but they were all heartfelt.
We were all here to thank a public servant, a federal employee who started as a GS-5 with a gun and a badge and worked his way up. As the saying goes–and I truly believe–
Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
Kevin had the last word, which he used mostly to praise and thank his wife, Cyn Slaughter, who was there with him all the way up the ladder.
I’m going to miss Kevin at his job. But here’s the best part. He and his wife will eventually relocate to Western North Carolina and he’ll join and lead hikes for CMC. So Smokies’ loss will be CMC’s gain.