Annamae Fitzpatrick’s wake is scheduled to end Sunday at precisely 7:07 p.m. She didn’t want anyone to miss the scheduled 7:15 p.m. first pitch of the Cubs’ World Series game against the Cleveland Indians.
Her children say that’s typical of the kind and empathetic woman they credit with their success in life.
“I would not have achieved anything without my mother,” said one of her sons, Chicago artist Tony Fitzpatrick. “She always chose to believe the best in me. That really made all the difference.
“She carried me through the darkness.”
When he was young, he had “profound issues with alcohol and drugs,” he said, and “she always made sure that I knew that I could come home. She believed my better self would someday surface.”
Today, he’s a celebrated artist and actor who portrayed the chief of the Chicago Police Department in the movie “Chi-Raq” and recently wrapped up work on TV’s “Patriot.”
Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s other seven children include a college professor, an advertising agency executive, two nurses, two professionals in communications and social services and a supervisor in a federal probation office.
She used to tell her eight kids and 21 grandkids she knew they were smart, believed they could do anything they set their minds to and, “I’ll bet you were the prettiest one there.” Each felt like her favorite.
Nearly every one of them live within a short drive from her home in Lombard.
“The last thing she told me was how beautiful and amazing I was, and I can’t think of a single time when she didn’t make me feel absolutely perfect,” said her granddaughter Mae Fitzpatrick.
“If we were nervous about doing something, she’d say, ‘Just do it!’ ’’ said her daughter, Jean Waldron.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick, 91, died Tuesday at Elmhurst Hospital, surrounded by nearly 40 members of her family. Her only regret, daughter Annemarie said, was that she wouldn’t live to see all the achievements of her grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Occasionally, when people learned she had eight kids, they’d make a crack like, “Didn’t you have a TV?”
“She found that crass and undignified,” said another daughter, Therese.
Ever elegant, she’d respond: “Can I help that I am irresistible?”
Mrs. Fitzpatrick had the irreverent wit celebrated by the Irish — smart, playful, knowing. And she was always well-coiffed, due to determined effort and a weekly beauty appointment. “I was born a redhead,” she’d say, “and I’m going to die a redhead.”
She stood 5-feet-10 thanks to what her children said were widely acknowledged as “the best legs on the West Side.”
Young Annamae grew up in the “the Island” — where Chicago, Cicero and Oak Park meet near Roosevelt Road and Austin Boulevard. All her life, she stayed close with friends she made at St. Frances of Rome grade school and Siena High School.
On her 18th birthday, she received a congratulatory phone call from James Fitzpatrick, who’d been born within hours of her at the same hospital, St. Anthony’s on the West Side. Their moms had become friends during their three-week-long postpartum hospital stays in the era before managed care, when a long stay wasn’t uncommon after giving birth. He wanted to ask her out before enlisting in the Navy during World War II. She liked to say he fell “head over heels” for her.
Before they got married in 1948, she studied journalism at Northwestern University on scholarship. Mrs. Fitzpatrick also wrote for Bakers’ Helper magazine until the kids arrived, said another daughter, Maryann Brown. Later, she worked as an administrative assistant at a real estate office.
The Fitzpatricks bought a home in Lombard on the GI Bill, and her husband started work as an embalmer. In 1965, at 40, he suffered a heart attack. Pregnant with their eighth child, she jokingly pleaded with James Fitzpatrick: “Do not take the coward’s way out.” He recovered and lived another 33 years.
His career flourished after he switched from embalming to selling burial vaults, said their son, Kevin. It probably helped that he used to ply clients with loaves of Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s homemade white, date-nut, cinnamon-raisin and Irish soda bread.
Countless times, her kids say, she had them deliver bread, brownies and dinner to neighbors experiencing sorrow and sickness. She also made sure they had holy water in the house.
“She ordered it from Lourdes by the case,” said another daughter, Kathryn Elmore. “If they had troubles, they got the soda bread and the holy water.”
Her son Jim, a college professor who has a master’s degree and a doctorate, said of his mother, “I’ve never met anybody who could listen and understand so quickly the complexity of anybody’s problems.”
Mrs. Fitzpatrick will be buried with a special Tiffany bracelet from her grandchildren. They engraved it with one of her favorite sayings, made as she observed her good-looking extended brood: “Not a dog in the bunch.”
Visitation is from noon to 7:07 p.m. Sunday at Gibbons Funeral Home in Elmhurst, with a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Monday at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Lombard.