The late Michael FitSimons
It's hard to think that this man is gone at all, let alone write that, last week, it was a month since he died.
I remember a family bowling trip (an annual outing in the '90s). As we were leaving our traditional post-bowling Burger King dinner, Dad was naturally wearing a gold cardboard crown. A small boy pointed up at him and exclaimed “Look, a King!”
When the boy’s father told him that he might not be a king, we looked at each other and said “Yes. Yes he is”.
Well, Michael FitzSimons may not (officially) have been a king, but he was The Chief.
He was The Chief to many of you in the official sense, those of you in the fire service. A civil engineer by profession, he became Kildare Chief Fire Officer in 1983, deftly managing the aftermath of the Cherryville Train Crash just weeks after taking office.
Authorative and authentic, respectful and humble, he was an innovative leader, instrumental in ensuring that Fire Services in Kildare and surrounding counties had the best appliances, equipment and methodologies available. He spearheaded setting up the centralised emergency services control room at Newbridge Fire Station.
He had a pioneering vision and used his position as Chief Fire Officers Association chairman to strengthen the fire service’s enforcement powers.
He was admired, respected and liked by his fire fighters, fellow officers and staff at Kildare County Council. “He was friendly and affable and drew people to him,” the local authority said. “He was always willing to share his knowledge and insights with his colleagues within Kildare and indeed the wider Fire Service. We all speak of the role he played as a mentor to us — sometimes a subtle suggestion, the significance of which was only realised much later, other times straight up advice, always thoughtful and fundamentally useful.”
He was held in high regard by the ambulance service, civil defence and the Garda Síochana.
And it was said that the Department of the Environment didn’t listen to anyone, but they listened to Michael FitzSimons.
Dad was The Chief of motorsport. Cars were his passion since childhood, a passion he passed on to his children and recently his grandson, and a passion he lived with his decades in motorsport.
He raced a bright yellow Triumph Spitfire in Mondello Park and then both drove and navigated in Navigation Rallies around the country.
He was instrumental in organising rally championships around Ireland and Rallycross championships throughout Europe.
He spearheaded many motorsport safety initiatives, which have continued worldwide reach.
His involvement in and contribution to the sport was marked in 2001 when he was awarded the Ivan Webb Trophy.
Because of this life-long involvement in local, national, European and World Motorsport, Dad has made many great friends around the world, a lot of whom were close to him, and Mum.
The French for Chief is Chef. And he was that too. With little prior knowledge or interest, he became the chef at home after his retirement.
He took to cooking with unwavering enthusiasm and abundant bravery (seaweed picked off a beach?) and creativity.
And, like anything that interested him, he avidly read up on it and talked about it — if he loved anything more than cooking or eating food, it was talking about food.
A recent conversation I had with him was almost entirely about fillet steak.
He also watched hours of his culinary hero Rick Stein. Well, they were cut from thesame cloth, gentle and understated, but infinitely wise.
His sisters, brother and cousins will agree, he was The Chief amongst his family. Their mother, pillar of Naas Kathleen FitzSimons, was still with us up to just three years ago and Dad played a key role in caring for her in her later years.
And for his siblings, with all of whom he was so close, he was always there to help them with anything going on in their lives, or if they just wanted to pick up the phone for a chat.
And, of course, Dad was The Chief at home. From the time we were born, he was there. Always. There to change nappies (terrycloth nappies so extra points for that), there to take us to school, there to take us to horse-riding and model-car-racing and boy-scouting, there to talk about what subjects we’d do for the Leaving, there to talk about anything, there to pick us up from a nightclub at 3am, there for a big hug for no reason whatsoever.
There to talk about anything.
He took an active interest in our interests, spending his Sundays at Sam’s equestrian shows, entertaining Dave’s two children James and Alice at any opportunity, and travelling to both Kerry and Scotland to watch my film screening at festivals.
He shared his own many passions with Mum, travelling with her around Europe and the States and the Middle East, on motorsport trips and long-planned holidays, or when the fancy took them.
And Dad was always just a phone call away. Whether it was to check how hot the leg of lamb needed to be, or to ask if that screenplay needed more back-story (he loved back-story) or whether or not we should buy that house, or that car, or that horse, he would always have the answer. And it was invariable the right one.
He always had his phone on his belt and he always — always — answered it when we rang.
Dad taught us to be kind, ambitious, enthusiastic, to be both conservative and brave. He mentioned, on occasion, that life isn’t fair but he showed us that, in fact, it is.
He taught us to drive defensively. He taught us that whatever we did in life, to try our damned hardest at it and to see it through. But also, not to take it all too seriously.
He passed on his passions and his passed on to us his love for us, which became love for each other.
All of this, he taught us, not just in words — although there were plenty of those too — but in his actions, his kindness and respect for us and for everyone he came in contact with.
We’ll miss him every day, but he’ll always be with us — the deck shoes under the coffee table or the chocolate he hid on top of the kitchen press.
We know he’s not going anywhere.
— By Paul FitzSimons