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“The dealer recruitment system I fashioned in the 1960s early in my retail automotive career makes me most proud.”
“The dealer recruitment system I fashioned in the 1960s early in my retail automotive career makes me most proud,” nominee Fitzgerald said. “Give new people a chance to demonstrate their talents and many will find careers.”
A 1965 graduate of Immaculate Conception Academy in Washington, D.C., Fitzgerald attended Montgomery College in Takoma Park for a year before joining her brother, Jack, at his new Dodge dealership as a temporary employee answering phones in 1966. “I fell in love with the business and never left,” she said.
Today, she continues to work with her brother and is also vice president of Fitzgerald Auto Malls, which encompasses 12 dealerships selling 16-plus brands in three states: Maryland, Pennsylvania and Florida. Throughout her career, Fitzgerald has been devoted to providing quality education to individuals pursuing an automotive career.
As co-founder of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Students Automotive Trades Foundation in 1978, she helped shape this unique public/private sector partnership between the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association (WANDA) and Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). “This work/study program takes high school students through a ‘mini-dealership’ educational experience, where students acquire, recondition and retail used vehicles on the open market,” she explained. “The state-of-the-art technical training and education on inventory vehicles results in high school graduates who have completed ASE-inspired technician education while engaged in on-the-job training.”
The foundation is Fitzgerald’s most rewarding accomplishment. “The group has successfully recruited scores of students into the ranks of technicians and vehicle sales professionals, thereby hitting head-on the perennial personnel challenges confronting dealerships,” she said. “This nationally recognized program has been implemented in other school systems and coordinated with complementary college training, which has enhanced the spread of dealership careers.”
Fitzgerald has also supported Operation Outreach-USA, which provides teacher guides and books to elementary school students nationwide promoting literacy and character- building, and has hosted child safety seat installation and inspection events at her dealerships since 1998. “Our program has raised public awareness of this imperative auto safety mandate in the metro-Washington, D.C., area,” she said. “Since its inception, 48,800 car seats have been inspected.”
Fitzgerald is equally committed to animal welfare and in 2013, formed a partnership with the then Washington Animal Rescue League to hold regular adoption events at dealership locations in Montgomery County and Frederick County, Maryland. She continues to partner with the group, which is now called Humane Rescue Alliance after merging with the Washington Humane Society. And she is currently a board member for the Friends of Montgomery County Animals.
Of all the awards and public recognition Fitzgerald has received, the most meaningful to her is the 2003 Catholic Business Person of the Year from the Catholic Business Network of Montgomery County. “It recognized my extensive efforts to better the lives of young people by creating a strong partnership between businesses and schools to help students explore employment in the automotive industry as a career path while furthering their education,” she said.
Fitzgerald was nominated for the TIME Dealer of the Year award by John O'Donnell, president and CEO of the Washington Area New Automobile Dealers Association. She and her husband, Michael Clarke, have nine grandchildren.