Saying Goodbye to ‘Our Carol’

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After more than three decades of studying, volunteering, or working at Penn — most recently, as senior associate director of alumni relations — Carol McCullough Fitzgerald, CW’63, has accepted the post of assistant vice president for alumni afffairs at nearby Drexel University, her other alma mater.

Fitzgerald has a file filled with dozens of notes from Penn alumni, praising her for personal touches that made each class reunion special. But she recalls with the most sentiment a passing comment made one alumni weekend several years ago. Standing on the sidelines during the Parade of Classes, she overheard a class officer say to his friend as he pointed to her, “Look over there. There’s our Carol. She’s the one who takes such good care of us.”

“I’ve always remembered that,” she says, “and I’ve always tried to be there for the alumni.”

Although Fitzgerald began her new job March 10, “Part of my heart will always be at Penn. ‘When work is a pleasure, life is a joy.'” she says, quoting Russian writer Maxim Gorky. “My work at Penn has truly been a labor of love. I have really enjoyed my experience here, and the staff [at Sweeten Alumni Center] has become my family.”

Fitzgerald even met her husband, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge James J. Fitzgerald III, C’62, at a University dance. After graduating from Penn with a bachelor’s degree in art history, she walked a few blocks over to Drexel University and earned a master’s degree in interior design in 1965. A neighbor soon invited her to volunteer for Penn’s Association of Alumnae, which she did, in addition to working as an interior design consultant and artist. She received the Alumni Award of Merit in 1979. Fitzgerald eventually became vice president of the General Alumni Society in 1980, then started getting paid as a consultant, and finally joined the alumni relations staff full time 13 years ago.

During her time as a volunteer and employee, Fitzgerald has directed some major alumni benefits, such as the Garden Party/ Auction and a Preservation Hall Jazz Band concert/New Orleans dinner party. She also has overseen numerous alumni weekends — arranging alumni-faculty exchanges, dinners, music, invitations, and more. Each graduating class has different needs and expectations, and Fitzgerald says she loved meeting that kind of challenge. “When you begin a project, you must be creative and you must bring order out of chaos. That, to me, is a thrill.”
She used those same organizational skills to manage her husband’s election campaign in 1989, raising more money than had ever been raised at that point for a comparable judicial campaign in the Philadelphia area. “I love dealing with people, and I love convincing them to do things they wouldn’t normally do,” Fitzgerald says.

“She’s a very classy lady. She added a lot of special spark to all of the events,” says Sylvia Purnell Muldrow, assistant director of alumni relations. At a City Hall reception for Dr. Judith Rodin, CW’66, president of the University, Fitzgerald had lights shone on the wall that read, ‘Welcome Judith Rodin.’ For the Red and Blue Rendevous, an opening night celebration on Reunion weekends, Fitzgerald purchased red and blue tablecoths and had big numerals drawn on them to designate each class. When the event used to be held in the Penn Tower Hotel, she hung kites — for a touch of Ben Franklin — from the ceiling.

“She’s very good at organizing and putting on parties and functions and events, but her real strength is relating to people as individuals,” says former alumni relations director Michel T. Huber, W’53, ASC’61. “I think that’s one of the reasons that to many alumni, the University is not a faceless bureaucracy.”

Director of Alumni Relations Martha Stachitas, CW’75, said, “For many Penn people, Carol Fitzgerald is synonymous with alumni relations. She does everything with a flair and she makes people feel as special as they are. Her departure is a loss for our alumni, but her status as an alumna endures — and she’s just down the street.”

— By Susan Lonkevich

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