Getting to Know Ron Fitzsimmons

Getting to Know Ron Fitzsimmons

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1950 and raised, from the age of three, on Long Island in Suffolk County, Ron Fitzsimmons is the personification of personal metamorphosis that occurred among many of his generation in the latter half of the 20th century.

"I was your typical hippie — hair to my shoulders and wearing John Lennon wire frame glasses. Suffolk County was basically solid Republican territory when I opened an office there for the Presidential bid of Bobby Kennedy," he said.

"I opened it on my own and recruited volunteer workers. Kennedy came out to the Island for a visit and stopped in to greet and thank us for the support. A few weeks after that he was shot and killed," Fitzsimmons recalled.

Today, Fitzsimmons works three days a week as a volunteer in the office of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland primarily on issues dealing with housing, parks and recreation and special projects. "But, everyone in the office pretty much works on whatever comes down the line. If you take a call and the person needs help on some matter that's what you’re working on," he said.

But, up until three years ago his life was far from that relaxed on a day to day basis. From 1990 to 2003 Fitzsimmons served as the Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers — a group of physicians and clinics that provided abortion services.

He was in that position and in the national spotlight through that group's most tumultuous years.

"During those years, I had four doctors murdered, had clinics bombed, and, at the insistence of the FBI, had to wear a bullet proof vest anytime I gave public speeches. It was a very tense time," Fitzsimmons said.

One of the people he dealt with on the opposing side of the abortion debate was Paul Hill who killed a doctor, his body guard and wounded the guard's wife, in Pensacola, Fla., at point blank range. Hill was executed for that crime.

"I was on the Phil Donohue show opposite Hill in an abortion discussion. Even though we disagreed we developed a candid discussion about the issue. He would call me to discuss it and insisted that killing doctors who performed abortions was not a crime because, in his mind, they were killers," he said.

"I ruffled a lot of feathers on both side during those years because I talked very candidly about the issue and developed a dialogue with our opponents. If fact, after Hill was convicted and sentenced, he called me from prison in Florida and want me to come to his execution. I declined," Fitzsimmons said.

Ron has always been a political animal. "I always wanted to serve people and causes," he said.

His first venture into college didn't last too long. He dropped out to get involved with the Vietnam War protests. But he eventually graduated from the State University of New York at Stony Brook with a degree in Political Science.

"I thought I might want to run for Congress and I had the notion that you had to be a lawyer to have a chance in Congress so I enrolled in Catholic University Law School. I went one year and hated it, so I quit," he said.

"I went to work for [U.S. Rep.] Herb Harris in the fall of 1978 and was with him until he lost in the Reagan landslide. After that I worked for several Democratic congressmen and for a District of Columbia law firm that wanted non-lawyer lobbyists," Fitzsimmons said.

"Then I became a lobbyist for NARAL. I was the first man they had hired to represent them. That was before forming the National Coalition," he said.

"I'm very passionate about issues and I love organizing," he said. In 1995 Fitzsimmons was named one of the District of Columbia's top lobbyists for his work with the National Coalition.

"Three years ago I decided enough was enough. I told them it was time they hired a woman to represent them," Fitzsimmons said. He was 54 with a wife, Meg, and two sons, Patrick 17, who will be a senior this fall and Brian, 14, who will be a freshman, both at Mount Vernon High School.

He and Meg, his wife of 25 years, met in Alexandria where Ron's office was located as head of the National Coalition. For years they lived in the Del Ray section of Alexandria until they moved to Mount Vernon District's Wessynton section for a larger home and more tranquility.

"I have the ability to not have to work fulltime because of other business ventures with which I'm involved. And, Meg does work fulltime," he said. "We both are also able to work from our home, except for the days I'm in Gerry's office or at office events."

But, his passion for service and involvement are still very much alive and vibrant as can be heard in his answers to the following questions.

<cl>What is the favorite part of your present job in Hyland's office?

<bt>"The ability to affect people's lives in a very direct and meaningful way. I feel I've been able to accomplish more here than I ever did working with Congress. And, the range of the issues a daily basis is constantly stimulating."

<cl>What are some of your other key ties to the community?

<bt>"I presently serve on the Board of Directors of United Community Ministries and the Board of Project Discovery. The latter helps kids who are the first in their family to go to college. I also served as Chair of the Landlord & Tenant Board and on the Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority Board of Commissioners in the 1980s."

<cl>What's the one thing about the community that you enjoy that you don't think is well known?

<bt>"The diversity of the community overall. I do some volunteer teaching at the high school and it’s absolutely fascinating to interact with students from so many cultures and backgrounds."

<cl>What are some of your favorite places in the community?

<bt>"The Mount Vernon Multiplex on Richmond Highway. I love movies and I really like that particular theater. Others would be Pema's Italian Restaurant and Riverside Park."

<cl>What's one thing you would change about the community if you could?

<bt>"I would synchronize the traffic lights on Route 1 for better traffic flow. I would also like to see a real upscale book store come to this area and a real diner like in New Jersey and New York."

<cl>What book would you recommend?

<bt>"Bob Woodward's ‘State of Denial.’"

<cl>What movie have you seen recently that you really enjoyed?

<bt>"‘Breach.’ It was particularly interesting since it was a true story that took place right here in the Washington area."

<cl>What's you favorite television show?

<bt>"The Sopranos."

<cl>Do you have any hobbies?

<bt>"Golf and collecting baseball memorabilia, particularly anything pertaining to the New York Yankees of the 1960s. Right now I'm writing a book about the 1961 Yankees for the 60th anniversary of that team in 2011. I have a publisher. I just have to get it done. I also collect autographs of the authors of my favorite books by having them sign a copy of their book."

<cl>Do you have a favorite vacation spot?

<bt>"New York City in the fall."

<cl>How would you most like to spend one day?

<bt>"Golfing with my two sons at Pebble Beach in California."

<cl>What's you favorite quotation?

<bt>"Approbation is a disservice — Dissent the higher service" by the late U.S. Sen. William Fulbright."

<cl>If you could be anyone else in history who would that be?

<bt>"Paul McCartney. I've memorized every one of his parts in the Beatles' songs. And my wife says I have a pretty good singing voice."

<cl>If you could meet anyone in history who would that be?

<bt>"John F. Kennedy."