Local Executive Dies in Plane Crash

Local Executive Dies in Plane Crash

Reston man returning from business trip died on Saturday in Leesburg.

It was supposed to be a happy day for Donald Fitzpatrick and Tim Keenan. Monday was the day the two co-founders of High Performance Technologies Inc. (HPTi) were to cut the ribbon on their new Reston Town Center offices.

Instead, Keenan spent the day helping to arrange funeral plans for Fitzpatrick and two other co-workers.

"Don was an amazing guy," Keenan said on Monday, two days after the plane crash that claimed the life of Fitzpatrick, a 58-year-old Reston resident, and two other HPTi employees, Gregory Jackson, 42, of Sterling, and Bronson "Ford" Byrd, 56, of Purcellville. "I still can't believe he is gone."

Fitzpatrick, who learned to fly about five years ago, was at the controls when his Socata TBM 700 turboprop plane crashed only yards from a Leesburg home around 3 p.m., and just a short distance from the historic downtown district. He was, said Keenan, returning from a business meeting in Sarasota, Fla., where he was meeting with his company's board of advisors.

Fitzpatrick and Jackson, the co-pilot, were killed in the crash, authorities said. Byrd, a consultant with the company, died after being transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital. The National Transportation Safety Board is looking at fog as a possible contributing factor in the crash.

<b>STARTED WITH THREE</b> people in Reston, HPTi, a federal contractor information technology consulting firm, celebrated its 10th anniversary last year. Today the firm employs more than 170 employees in seven offices around the country and ended 2002 with revenues of more than $34 million. On Monday, the company was scheduled to make its return to its Reston roots when it was to cut the ceremonial ribbon on a new 11th floor headquarters at the Town Center. "He was so excited about this move," Keenan said. "His fingerprints are all over this office and sadly, he won't ever get to enjoy the final product. It was going to be his showplace."

A proud Restonian, Fitzpatrick, a New Jersey native, lived only a few miles from the new office. "He lives on Lake Port Drive, for him this move was a quality-of-life issue," Keenan said. "He could have lunch with his wife or take care of his kids at a moment's notice. He couldn't do that in Ballston."

<b>FITZPATRICK MARRIED</b> his third wife, Laura, five years ago. At about the same time, Fitzpatrick decided he was tired of driving between his home in Reston and his new vacation get-a-way in the seaside community of Duck, N.C. So rather than continue driving Interstate 95, the ever-inventive Fitzpatrick decided he should fly over it. "When he decided that he wanted to learn to fly, he passed his test faster than just about anyone," Keenan said. "He loved it."

Whatever he went after, he did so with passion. "He didn't get tired of anything," his friend and colleague said. "He was an absolute zealot."

After Saturday's plane crash, HPTi mourned the loss of its founder and its leader. "The success of High Performance Technologies over the past 10 years is due in large measure to his clear vision and strategic genius. By example, Don drove this firm to be the best that it could be," a company release stated. "We grieve his loss and feel a sadness words can't express, but we will not let this break our spirit. Don wanted HPTi to be 'built to last,' and we dedicate ourselves to fulfilling that vision — it will be our contribution to his legacy."

Ironically, only six weeks ago, Fitzpatrick worked out all succession plans for the company. "He left us in great shape," Keenan said.

In the first 72 hours after the crash, Keenan's first priority was in dealing with the family of the three victims and the employees. "Then we will put our heads down and get back in the routine," he said.

Fitzpatrick was the father of five children. While his devotion to his company was legendary in his office, nothing made Fitzpatrick more proud than his children, Keenan said. He has two grown children, Michael and Michelle, two teen-age children, Kelly, 19, and Donald Jr., 16, and one infant son, Collin, who will turn 2 next week. "His family is in shock like anybody else," Keenan said. "His wife Laura is very intelligent and strong and she will get through this."

<b>KEENAN</b>, the chief operating officer of HPTI, said his friend and colleague was an extremely hands-on leader. From picking wallpaper in the new office to planning long-term strategy, Fitzpatrick, the president and chief executive officer, was the central cog in the high-tech HPTi wheel. "He was the strategist," Keenan said, "and I was the executioner. It was a good mix."

Fitzpatrick was a "mentor" to Keenan and he said he was going to miss being able to turn to his friend for advice. "Don was a father figure to me," Keenan said. "I always wanted to please him just like a dad."

Despite earning his bachelor's degree at Carnegie Mellon University and his doctorate in applied mathematics from Johns Hopkins University, and his years of success in the business world, Fitzpatrick remained very grounded, Keenan said. Keenan who is 14 years younger than Fitzpatrick says he will miss just being around his fallen colleague. "He was just a helluva fun guy to hang out with," he said.

When they decided to build the company, Fitzpatrick and Keenan made two promises to each other. "I still remember him saying, 'If I die first, take care of my family and take care of HPTi," Keenan said. "And, of course, I made the same promise. I just never thought it would come to this."

Fitzpatrick looked after all of his employees, Keenan said. Two years ago, a HPTi employee, a young man in his 30s, died of brain cancer. Fitzpatrick immediately set up a scholarship for his late employee's two children. Just recently, Keenan said, the man's oldest son was admitted into the University of Virginia. "Obviously, we will do the same for Don's kids."

Fitzpatrick's track-record for looking out for others extended beyond the office and the home, Keenan said, and that is why he is sure his friend knew what he was doing right before Saturday's fatal crash.

Fitzpatrick never did anything by accident, Keenan said. "He landed that plane where he did on purpose," Keenan said. "They did the right thing. It was not an accident that they missed the town. I am sure they knew they were going to die and I know Don would have done the right thing."

<b>ON NOV. 26, 1991</b>, Fitzpatrick was the COO of Technology Applications Inc. (TAI) when he, and several top advisors including Keenan, were fired. "I remember that night very well," Keenan said. "We went to Don's house, drank a little vino, called our boss names and then started talking through some ideas about where we should go from there."

Less than 24 hours later, HPTi was born. "That is the kind of guy Don was," Keenan said. "There was nothing he couldn't do and nothing that scared him."

It was at TAI that Keenan first met Fitzpatrick, his new boss. Two weeks into Fitzpatrick's rein, he took the senior staff to Virginia Beach for a retreat. It was at that beach side conference center that Keenan first saw a glimpse of the Fitzpatrick as a leader. "He challenged our team to bid $1 billion worth of work, never mind that the previous year we only bid $50 million," he said. "And you know what? We nearly did it, we contracted $700 million that year. That was the type of leader Don was. He always showed us what was possible."