Alumni Spotlight: Joe Fitzgerald, M.D. '64

Retired orthopedic surgeon enjoys serving his community at Clothes To Kids Rhode Island.
A man stands near a rolling basket.

Joe Fitzgerald, M.D. ’64 has figured out the key to a happy, successful retirement: serve the children of his community and play a lot of golf.

The retired orthopedic surgeon, who resides in Kingston, Rhode Island, with his wife, Kathleen, spends every Tuesday and Thursday at Clothes to Kids Rhode Island, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that provides new and quality used clothing to low-income or in-crisis school-age children in Providence County free of charge so that they may attend school with the confidence and self-esteem needed to achieve academic success.

“It’s supposed to add self-esteem, and I think it works,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it makes the world a better place.”

Fitzgerald’s interest in making the world a better place can be traced back to the example he saw his mother, a nurse, and his father, a school teacher, set for him when he was growing up in Throop, Pennsylvania. His love affair with golf also began early in his life after an uncle arranged for him to play for free at a local course.

“I played golf about 45 holes a day when I was 13,” he said, “so I got pretty good as a result of that.”

As a student at Throop High School, Fitzgerald already knew he wanted to attend the University.

“Where else would I go?” he said with a laugh. “Everybody went to Scranton. I was five miles away from Scranton.

“It was affordable and it was a rite of passage.”

After spending a few weeks considering what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, Fitzgerald realized he enjoyed his science courses and thought a life spent helping others through medicine would be a life well-spent.

“I was very happy I did that,” he said. “I never regretted that.”

Fitzgerald commuted to campus each day with a few friends who also commuted. At Scranton, he double-majored in biology and philosophy in an early version of what would become the Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program, and he played on the Golf Team, where he achieved a three-stroke handicap. During his senior year, he was accepted at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C., where he initially lived above the office of a doctor who happened to be a Scranton native.

During the rest of his time at medical school, Fitzgerald lived at the District of Columbia General Hospital, where he worked a few hours a week in exchange for room and board. In addition to that arrangement, he also worked as a lab technician to cover the rest of his expenses. He graduated from medical school in 1968 and met his future wife, Kathleen, who was then a student nurse, during his time as a medical intern.

“We got married about a year-and-a-half later,” he said, adding that they eventually brought two children, Matthew and Jennifer, into the world.

After finishing his internship, Fitzgerald spent two years in the U.S. Army as a general medical officer. After he was discharged, he landed a prestigious residency in orthopedics at Rhode Island Hospital. After finishing his residency, he founded South County Orthopedics and became the Chief Team Physician at the University of Rhode Island. While running South County Orthopedics, he found a way to “pay it forward” that proved to be as spiritually rewarding as it was financially advantageous.

“Because of my living at D.C. General and the fact that I was able to go through school without much debt, I tended to do a lot of charitable work in my own practice,” he said. “If people could’t pay me, I’d say, ‘That’s OK. Just keep coming back and send your friends,’ and I filled up a practice that way.

“I just wanted to be a doctor, take care of people and do charitable work.”

Fitzgerald continued to operate as a Team Physician at Rhode Island University and as the head of South County Orthopedics for 40 years; when the company merged with a few other groups into Ortho Rhode Island in 2016, he retired and began playing golf three days a week. About three years ago, he discovered Clothes To Kids Rhode Island and dedicated himself to supporting its mission.

“Clothe a child, change a life,” he said, echoing one of Clothes To Kids Rhode Island’s slogans. “It’s very gratifying.

“I shop with people, that’s all, and talk to people about their lives.”

Since opening in 2016, Clothes To Kids Rhode Island, which is primarily funded by donations from local citizens or corporations, has provided 9,000 wardrobes to children in Providence County, a thrift store value of more than $375,000. Fitzgerald plans to continue to serve his community at Clothes To Kids Rhode Island, and he needn’t look any further than the smiles on the faces of the people he serves to know that his efforts are helping to make the world a better place.

"I have a chance to talk to people and smile at them," he said. "In our place, everybody smiles."


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