Former PNG Post-Courier managing editor John Fitzgerald was farewelled at a funeral service in Melbourne on Friday. Universally known as Fitzie, John was also known for his roles as chief-of-staff and editor of the Melbourne Herald and later as managing director of PR outfit International Public Relations.
Fitzie played an important part leading up to independence in PNG in 1976. He took over as the top man at the Post-Courier in Moresby’s Lawes Road when all sorts of political pressures were building.
He was a stickler for the correct use of English and had a passion for ensuring journalists spelt people’s names properly. “People might not know a lot of things, Richard, they might not know much at all,” he thundered. “But they sure as hell know their own names and how to spell them. So in a story, for God’s sake, make sure you spell the names right.”
Something I’ve never forgotten. Even when interviewing Jack Smith. “Now is that S-M-I-T-H, Mr Smith?’’ I intone, using the Fitzie logic.
Fitzie conducted himself with a unique style at public functions. At an international boxing tournament in Papua, where I was MC, Fitzie was to present the winner of the main bout with his prize. Before the action got underway there was a glitch with the tape-recorded PNG and Filipino anthems. The music trickling from the PA sounded like something from Star Wars. At ringside everyone tried to stifle sniggers, but Fitzie retained his composure. It was, after all, an international contest.
At Fitzie’s funeral in East Malvern, his old mate Kevan Gosper of the International Olympic Committee presented one of the eulogies. Gosper had flown back from Beijiing. Everyone who worked with Fitzie knew Gosper’s Christian name was Kevan, not Kevin. You could almost hear Fitzie in the background. “For God’s sake, spell it right.”