(Shirley Fitzpatrick was the subject of an interview by the Milwaukee LGBT History Project early in 2003, and was featured in a display first appearing at PrideFest 2003.)
Fitzpatrick created, and relied on, LGBT community in Milwaukee by playing softball. She doesn't think of herself as a political person. She was never particularly out at work. She would have told anyone who asked, but the subject never seemed to come up. She calls herself a "gay woman" rather than a "lesbian" because she thinks the word "gay" captures it all - and any term we use, according to Fitzpatrick, should include everyone.
Fitzpatrick remembers getting softball started in Milwaukee when she used to hang out at a bar called the Finale on Center Street in the early 1970s. She told some of the guys there that women could beat them at softball. The guys just laughed, so Fitzpatrick went to the Beer Garden, rounded up some women, and challenged the guys to a game. She recalls the first game taking place at Wick Field, 51st and Vliet.
Soon after that, a league formed. It was well organized, with published schedules, from early on. Fitzpatrick played first base and pitched in her early days, but mostly coached and managed for over thirty years.
Softball may not seem very political, but in order for LGBT persons to play, they have to feel comfortable assembling in public places and using public resources such as parks and ball diamonds. People whose citizenship is seriously in doubt, people who live in constant fear of police harassment or other violence, will not create a softball league. So softball is part of the LGBT movement.
Shirley came out to her mother almost by accident. Her mother thought she was seeing a married man. Fitzpatrick explained that she was actually hanging out with a woman.
After 32.5 years working for the City of Milwaukee in the Records office, Shirley retired. At her death in January 2012, the following obituary was published:
Fitzpatrick, Shirley A. Born April 29, 1933. Daughter of Harry and Ruth Fitzpatrick. Died peacefully January 10, 2012. Survived by cousins Donald (Dagmar) Kindt, Phyllis (Harold) Krueger, and Beatrice Rosenspies. Also survived by other relatives and too many dear friends to name. Founding member of S.S.B.L. Lifetime member of the American Cribbage Congress. Shirley was truly "one-of-a-kind". Once you met her (and heard her laugh) you never forgot her! A celebration of Shirley's amazing life will be held Saturday, January 21, 2012, at The Ballgame, 196 S. 2nd St., Milwaukee, WI. Please join us and bring your Shirley stories. Per Shirley's wishes - in lieu of flowers, donations may be made to: STD Specialties Clinic, 3251 N. Holton, Milwaukee, WI 53212. "May the road rise up to meet you, may the wind always be at your back, may the sun shine warm upon your face, and rain fall soft upon your fields. Until we meet again..."
Interview by Jerry Johnson.
Photos by Jerry Johnson, Wisconsin Light, and the subject.
Last updated: September, 2013.