He quipped the Oscars’ acceptance speeches should have better prepared him for the moment.
Dr. Rodney Fitzgerald quickly followed the lighthearted joke with a sincere word of thanks.
“I do appreciate this more than you will ever know,” Fitzgerald said. “…This is very touching to me for a lot of reasons.”
He said he had the privilege of knowing the award’s namesake as a young boy in Bradley County. His Cub Scout troop regularly met at Johnson’s house. The “really big guy” was a very outgoing, dynamic man with a heart for people.
Fitzgerald paused to take a breath as he continued to look into the faces of the gathered guests.
“As I look at this award, and I am so thankful for it tonight, I have to give credit where credit is due,” Fitzgerald said. “I look at my past and I look at my family. My mother and dad left me a wonderful legacy of giving.”
His family believed it was more blessed to give than to receive. The seed planted by his parents took root and grew as he did. Fitzgerald sees the same spirit reflected in the United Way and the Bradley County/Cleveland community.
“I realize what a wonderful organization this is and what it means to live in a community like this that is so blessed to have such a sense of volunteerism and cooperation,” Fitzgerald said. “And I hope that continues.”
Mickey Torbett, the William F. Johnson 2013 award recipient, introduced Fitzgerald prior to the 2014 award winner’s speech.
Fitzgerald has served in a number of volunteer capacities within the United Way. These include, but are not limited to, his work as a campaign solicitor, a campaign division chair, a campaign co-chair, board member, executive committee member, chair of the community impact team, fund distribution chairman and on fund distribution panels.
“As when I received the award last year, I know this year’s award recipient will be humbled to be listed among those recipients,” Torbett said. “Or, as our honoree said in his acceptance speech when he was elected senior class president at Bradley High School a few short years ago, ‘I want to think all of you from the heart of my bottom.’”
Jokes and laughter carried on through the night, especially when it came time for the United Way to make a plaque presentation to Fitzgerald.
Except, there was no plaque to present.
It turns out Fitzgerald is not “a plaque guy.”
The United Way staff wondered what to give a man who does not take plaques and already has everything?
The answer is one square foot in the Scottish Highlands. The purchase, according to Matt Ryerson, executive director and CEO of the United Way of Bradley County, comes with a privilege — a title privilege.
Explained Ryerson, “By this deed of change of name and title, made by [Fitzgerald] and undersigned, I absolutely and entirely renounce, relinquish and abandon the use of my former name as Dr. Rodney Fitzgerald.”
Continued Ryerson, “And assume, adopt and determine to take the use from this date year of the name and title of Lord Rodney Fitzgerald.”
On a more serious note, Ryerson assured the guests the Johnson award is the highest honor given to the strongest volunteer of the United Way.
Fitzgerald said he does not know what the future holds, but he did have a prediction to offer.
“I am convinced this community is committed as a group of people who will always realize that working together we can only accomplish so much, and that so much will impact the community in ways we will never know,” Fitzgerald said. “And I just know we are all going to be held accountable someday for our actions. I just want to be there in the middle of service; that is where I have always wanted to be.”
“Lord Fitzgerald” continued, “That is what I love to do. I love giving back to the community that has cared for me. I want you to know from the bottom of my heart how much I appreciate this award tonight. Thank you so much.”