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12/28/2005
Hudson Valley Community College Mourns Death of Former President James J. Fitzgibbons

Served as president from 1965 through 1979

CONTACT: Janine Kava (518) 629-8071
FOR RELEASE: Wednesday, December 28, 2005

James J. Fitzgibbons, who served as president of Hudson Valley Community College from 1965 through 1979, died Tuesday; he was 90.

Fitzgibbons was the second president in the college's history. During his 14-year tenure at the college, Fitzgibbons presided over an impressive period of growth, including the rise of five new buildings on campus and a 4,000-student increase in enrollment. At the same time, Hudson Valley's curricula grew from 18 to 38 academic programs, and the college was organized into five academic divisions.

While he was president, Hudson Valley was transformed from a largely technical college into one of the state's most comprehensive community colleges, offering degrees in business, liberal arts, the health sciences and technologies.

"The thoughts and prayers of the entire Hudson Valley Community College family are with the wife and children of former President James Fitzgibbons today. President Fitzgibbons was a strong leader who helped guide this institution through two decades of growth and accomplishment," Hudson Valley President Andrew J. Matonak, Ed.D. said. "His legacy lives on in the Fitzgibbons Health Technologies Center and in the stellar reputation he helped build for this college."

Fitzgibbons arrived at the college in 1954, having been asked to join the fledgling Hudson Valley Technical Institute by its first president, Otto Guenther. Guenther had left his post at Erie County Technical Institute to lead the Troy college, and asked Fitzgibbons, another Erie Tech faculty member, to head Hudson Valley's Electrical Technology Department.

In an October 1977 Troy Record interview, Fitzgibbons revealed that when he first arrived on campus – then a single brick building in downtown Troy – he was so disheartened by the setting that he nearly drove off without beginning the interview.

"I came down to look the place over and I was sure I shouldn't do it – you never saw such a decrepit building," he was quoted as saying. "My wife and I just sat in the car for a long time and looked at it in disbelief. But eventually we did go in and my friend Otto convinced me to accept the job. It was the turning point in my career."

By 1960, Fitzgibbons had served as chairman of the Electrical Technology department, chairman of the Industrial Division, and had recently been promoted to dean of instruction, but he left the college that year to take a post with the state Education Department. He stayed in state service for four years, reaching the title of supervisor of the Division of Professional Licensing, before receiving another call from his old boss, Otto Guenther.

This time, Guenther was recommending him for the college presidency and Fitzgibbons said he was interested. The college had just recently moved to a new 114-acre campus on the Troy/North Greenbush border and was growing substantially.

Fitzgibbons was inaugurated on Sept. 29, 1966, and the event coincided with the dedication of the college's newest building, Brahan Hall. He pledged in his inauguration to construct a new library for the growing campus, and four years later, the Dwight Marvin Library was completed.

"He was a consummate gentleman, one of the most decent men I ever worked for," said Abraham Bolgatz, who served as dean of community services under Fitzgibbons. "He was a great leader."

He was a strong supporter of college athletics, student government and student activities, often presiding over formal student dances, and sitting on the bench during the college's intercollegiate football games. During his tenure, the college's campus was active and vibrant, with a variety of Greek organizations and various activities for the growing student body. In 1979 – six years after the college celebrated its 20 th anniversary – Fitzgibbons retired. Two years later, the Fitzgibbons Health Technologies Center was dedicated in his honor.

According to an article in the Troy Record prior to his inauguration, Fitzgibbons was born Feb. 13, 1915, in Buffalo. He received a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Canisius College and a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Buffalo. He received a master's degree in engineering from the University of Buffalo and a doctorate in public administration from the Maxwell Graduate School of Syracuse University. Fitzgibbons also served in the U.S. Naval Reserves from 1942 to 1945, achieving the rank of lieutenant senior grade.

Fitzgibbons was predeceased by his wife, Helen Murtha Fitzgibbons after 39 years of marriage; and is survived by his five children, Bernard, Ann, Michael, Thomas and James; six grandchildren; and by his second wife, Virginia Horan Fitzgibbons.

The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 2, 2006, at Sacred Heart Church on Pawling Avenue in Troy, with a reception to follow at Troy Country Club.