On my very first day at R. FitzGerald and Company in 1995, we went to visit with a former client of Richards' (they had fired him, hired a competitor and where desperate to have him back). On the way there, Mr. FitzGerald told me that if this meeting wasn't going well, he would ask me to go out and wait in the car as he was going to tell this client off!
Shit! (what did I get myself into;)
Mr. FitzGerald (even his clients 20 plus years his senior addressed him as Mister) is the most respected designer I've ever known, he was charmingly shy, debonair and spot on, every single time! On my second day, a custom rug was being delivered, as the rug was being unwrapped, Mr. Fitz said wrap it back up, the delivery guy said "what!?!"
The custom colored, custom sized rug was "off" and Mr. Fitz was not about to sell or give his client a song and dance, the rug was wrong, period. He would figure out what went wrong and regardless of where the blame lay, the client would get the perfect custom rug, no matter what.
Integrity could have been Mr. Fitz's middle name, Big Ben is another one. Mr. Fitz hated to be late, often times we where early and would drive around together, critiquing the neighborhood until it was time to precisely pull into the driveway.
My favorite FitzGerald story is this; when he was working for Benn Cooke of Trade Winds, a client asked if someone could hang a new painting over the sofa in the Den. Richard was sent to the client's home, no one was there, so he figured the best placement and then tried to hang the 6'x8' painting over the sofa. Mr. Fitz lost his balance and fell backwards landing on the ottoman with the painting landing safely on top of him. He composed himself and hung the painting and no one was the wiser.
Years later at a party, Mr. FitzGerald saw that client and told him the story. That client said "Richard, that was a Motherwell and would have been the end of your career" that client ultimately was one of Richard's best long term clients!
After a few years, Mr. Fitz asked me if I could paint his Living Room floor down the Cape. I'm still not sure how he thought I could do this, but with out thinking, I said sure!
Interior Design Richard FitzGerald - Photography and painted floor by Michael J. Lee
The next day I visited our muralist James Alan Smith and asked him, "how do you paint a floor"? Jim gave me a brief lesson and I arrived one Friday night after work, started masking out the floor and by 10pm on Sunday had completed the task. If their is one thing Richard and I have in common it is a relentless drive. After Mr. Fitz had privately announced his plans for the company, I revealed my plans to become a photographer. For the next 9 months, Mr. FitzGerald paid me, full time though he expected me to work as little as possible for him and as much as possible toward achieving my goal of being an Architectural Photographer. It is this; natural gift of trust, selfless guidance and above all sincerity that gave me the confidence and ability to achieve the successes I've been blessed with most recently in my career. The most important thing Richard taught me, is this. When you enter a room, sit down, experience the room at the scale it was meant to be, and this above all, never ever overlook the obvious! What you feel when you enter a room should, first and foremost be what you photograph, period!
One of my first magazine commissions was for Gail Ravgiala and Jill Connors for Design New England Magazine. I was asked to photograph Mr. FitzGerald's personal home on the Cape. They could have very easily hired someone else, someone with a proven track record but they hired me, and I'll always remember that...
Read "Heart and Soul"
I have three stories in the upcoming 5th anniversary, Design New England Magazine, November/December issue, for which I am very proud, so stay tuned...
Michael J. Lee