Obituaries, generally speaking, are pretty terrible. I knew that Matt needed to have one, and I knew that I didn't want it to be terrible. But the idea of trying to write the obituary that Matt deserved seemed like an impossible task and I knew that I would never be happy with anything I created.
Over the past few months, both Matt and I have heard from countless students about the impact that Matt had on their lives. Several of them have kept in touch after they left St. Mary's High School, and a few of them have become colleagues or friends as adults. One of these friends is Jacob Cassidy. He had Matt as an English teacher, went on to study English at university, then become a teacher himself. When I decided that I was not the person to write Matt's obituary, I knew that Jacob was the best person to ask and I'm so grateful he said yes. Having a former student so perfectly capture who he was and how he lived feels like a fitting tribute to Matt's legacy as a teacher.
I love what Jacob wrote. It's definitely not terrible.
Matthew Fitzsimmons, affectionately known by many as simply, “Fitz,” lived with tenacity until his final moments on January 13th, 2023. In the face of his glioblastoma diagnosis in 2018 and all the uncertainty and challenges that came with it in the following years, he proudly wore his Star Wars t-shirt that reminded everyone to, “Never Tell Me the Odds.” There is no doubt that this determination gave us all more time with him.
Matt will always be deeply loved and missed by his wife, Kristen, and three beautiful children, Rya, Henry, and Max. Anyone who knew Matt knew that he never shied away from an opportunity to boast about the awesome humans he got to call his family. The pride he carried as a husband and father was palpable.
Matt will also be greatly missed by the rest of his family: son to Barb Fitzsimmons and her friend Robert Simard, and Mike Fitzsimmons (deceased), brother to Dave Fitzsimmons and his spouse, Amy Robertson, son-in-law to Roger and Liz Shantz, brother-in-law to Ken and Nora Shantz, and Lynette and Oz Tilt, and uncle to seven nieces and nephews.
Matt also leaves behind a legacy that has impacted countless other friends, colleagues, and former students.
As a teacher, Fitz brought an intensity to the classroom that was, in all honesty, intimidating to most. But it drove students to be thoughtful, critical, and responsible – to strive for excellence and harness passion, even in the face of adversity. He did the same as a coach. It was never about the grade or the accolade, it was about being a good human, about being your best self. Fitz’s intensity was softened in the way he made students feel seen. It was in the side-eyed glance, nod and smile in the hallway, the paragraph of feedback scrawled in green pen at the end of an essay, or the chats that showed he recognized you as someone worthy of deep and serious conversation and consideration.
There is so much Matt will be remembered for.
His love of music, baseball (especially his Cardinals), lifting big weights, a cold beer, a good superhero film, and epic t-shirts.
His beard – a symbol of his wisdom and strength, and a point of envy for many men, young and old.
His sense of humour that ranged from Bubbles impersonations and obscure movie quotes to his dry, deadpan delivery that he learned from Barb.
His eye roll and the “ugh” that usually went along with it.
The way he leaned back in a comfy seat, one foot on the opposite knee, and plucked at the chest of his shirt when he was settled in.
His faith and the role it played in keeping him present and hopeful, even in the hardest of times.
His gently outstretched arms, palms upturned, that let you know you were about to receive a deep and heartfelt embrace.
We will miss these things and more.
But Matt gave us so much to hold onto and a powerful example to emulate.
We will miss you so much, Matt.