November 24, 1924-November 28, 2012
I met Hugh Fitzgerald for the first time back in March of 1979. Hugh had with him Lewis Sims, Bobby James, Jimmie Stephenson and Charles Penney: this group made up the DBD pulpit committee. Hugh was the chairman. I must tell you that I don’t have any idea why they even fooled with me but Hugh was like a bulldog and once he set his mind to something, it was hard to tell him no. We locked horns immediately. He wanted to know why I was on edge and I asked him why they came without telling me. We did not get off to a good start. I told him the truth: “I planned to resign this morning and then you showed up and I did not want to embarrass my folks by doing it with strangers in the audience so I’ll have to do it tonight.” He could tell it was not a good time to talk to me so he said, “It’s obvious that you don’t want to be anybody’s pastor right now but would you come and fill in for us until we can get someone?” I said, “Sure, I’ll be glad to preach.” He said, “Just show up on Sunday morning and we will have someone take care of Wednesday nights.” This was are first agreement and I don’t know what they thought but I did not think anything would come of it. That shows you how much I know. Long story short, Hugh and the committee showed a lot of patience and two months later I accepted the call to DBC.
I soon learned that Hugh had a lot of influence within the church and out. He was definitely the key leader and he had some side kicks. Kenneth use to refer to them as the big three: Hugh, Jimmie Stephenson and John Tanner. If those three were opposed to it, you were in trouble but now those three didn’t agree on everything. Jimmie had worked hard to get the church to adopt By-laws and Hugh and John were not really excited about the changes but in time, it all worked out. Hugh lead the music at times and he was always the chairman of the nominating committee, always. Everyone said, “Make Hugh the chairman because people have a hard time saying no to Hugh” and that was true.
Right after coming to Danville, I go to the Farm Store one day and Hugh is chewing Kenneth out for something. After he left, I looked at one of the workers, I think it was Gary and I said, “I thought Kenneth was the boss.” “He is,” Gary said. I said, “Well who is Hugh’s boss?” He said, “Hugh don’t have a boss.” Hey, you would have to know Hugh to appreciate what Gary said but he hit the nail on the head. Hugh and I were never enemies but our friendship evolved over time. We did have a few run-ins in the early days. We got into a heated discussion about the pastorium and I probably said too much and I sure it did not come out the right way. Hugh was very forgiving toward me. I am very fortunate in that respect. That was way back in 91 and I don’t think we ever had any problems afterwards: he did chew me out a few more times but I don’t think I ever responded and I knew it was his way of showing me that he cared.
He stopped being hard on me a long time ago and then I noticed he and Joe David in a debate one day. I told Joe David later, “Son, do not argue with him. Let him have his way.” I don’t remember exactly what Joe David said but he didn’t agree to let him have his way.
Hugh was tough. He was a rugged individual. I saw him weep a couple of times at most. He could handle pressure as well as anyone I have ever known. He was very insightful and he had a rare gift of diplomacy. He could chew you out and not only would you know that he was right, but you would be grateful for the chewing. He was a shrewd investor and a very good businessman. Hugh had a strong work ethic and physically, he was strong as an ox. Even at age 80, he would work most of us under the table. At age 76 he carried 5 gallon buckets of concrete up the steps at the FORTE. He enjoyed helping with all the cooking events. He helped with all the breakfast meals until just a few years ago. He cut the grass here at the church until he was 82 and we had to talk him into quitting then.
Hugh love farming and especially messing with cows. He had no fear. He had his own system of doing things and generally speaking, he didn’t need much help. He got James Kyle to help him haul cows to the sale but he did most of it himself. There is no telling how many miles he walked checking fences. He would not hear of a four-wheeler. Every time John mentioned him getting a four-wheeler, Hugh would go into a tirade. Hugh always pulled his weight but he was not into frills or extravagance.
I’ve been thinking since Hugh’s promotion: “Why in the world would he and Mavis take such a liking to me?” I don’t have an answer, other than the grace of God. If Hugh liked you, he liked you and if he didn’t there was little chance that anything would change. He and Mavis were always there for us. Over the years Hugh became one of my very best friends. We fought some battles together and he fought one for me without my assistance. I would not be at DBC if it were not for men like Kenneth, Jimmie and Hugh. You will not find a lot of folk that will stand up for a preacher, especially when the chips are down but they did and that is why I got to raise all my kids in Danvillesee them all graduate from the same school which is rare among preachers. I have a great deal of admiration and thanks for Hugh’s life. I have said a temporary good bye to most of my life coaches this year: Bro. Inman in December of 2011, then Mr. James newby, Joe Eaton and now Hugh–all within a years time. This time last year, I could talk to all four of them. My world is changing rapidly but that’s okay, the Lord is preparing me for the next. I am just very thankful that I could be Hugh’s pastor for almost 34 years.