With a crowd of 13,000 filling the Boston Garden, the premier Boston sports venue before TD Garden, Harvard hockey goalie William R. Fitzsimmons ’67 wowed the crowd in 1965 with 43 saves amid a disappointing first round Beanpot loss to the Boston College Eagles.
“The Eagles' great speed and size enabled them to overpower the Crimson defense, but [Fitzsimmons] rarely failed to hold his ground,” The Crimson wrote at the time. “Fitzsimmons was perfect.”
Though the Crimson would end up losing the following consolation game against Northeastern as well, the season would be no loss for the sophomore Fitzsimmons. Saving 91 goals throughout the tournament and only allowing 8 goals past him, the young goalie had broken the record for number of saves in a Beanpot tournament.
“He was incandescent,” Wade M. Welch ’65, then senior goalie on the team, said of Fitzsimmons. “We lost both games but he was unbelievable. He was a delight to behold in the Beanpot.”
Five decades after leaving Harvard, Fitzsimmons, known to his friends as “Fitz” or “Fitzy,” has remained a fixture on campus. Now Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Fitzsimmons still holds his college hockey record and has surely not forgotten his days in the College.
“To say that my four years were transformative would be a colossal understatement,” Fitzsimmons wrote in an email to The Crimson.
As a first-generation student on campus, Fitzsimmons was involved in much more than the freshman and varsity hockey teams. He was a member of the Mental Hospitals Committee of the Phillips Brooks House, a solicitor for the Combined Charities Drive, and a member of Dorm Crew.
Educated at the Catholic Archbishop Williams High School only fifteen miles from Harvard’s campus, Fitzsimmons also retained strong ties to his faith background during his time at the College as a Catechism teacher and member of the Catholic Students Association.
Keeping active politically with the Harvard-Radcliffe Young Democrats and socially with the now-defunct Pi Eta Club, Fitzsimmons stayed busy during his undergraduate years and had left a positive impression with those that knew him well.“Great guy. Quality guy. Fun guy too,” Welch, also a member of Pi Eta, said of Fitzsimmons. “You could tell even then that he was going to be a successful person.”
As an undergraduate, Fitzsimmons, a resident of Kirkland House, concentrated in Social Relations and was described by his four-year roommate Michael Casey ’67 as a “good student” and “hard worker.”
“He was an outstanding student and in true Harvard fashion, spent the last half of his senior year writing his thesis instead of being peppered by pucks,” William E. Diercks ’69, teammate on the varsity hockey team, wrote in an email.
Through all the studying, however, Fitzsimmons was able to have time to enjoy other pastimes, including playing cards with friends. Freshman and sophomore-year roommate Michael B. Dolan ’67 recalled that playing Hearts was a favorite pastime of Fitzsimmons’s.
“Freshman year was all nose to the grindstone,” Casey added. “After that we probably spent a little time playing cards that we should’ve spent studying, but we managed to graduate anyway.”
Fitzsimmons’s taste in music was also fondly remembered by his Lionel A-31 roommates, both of whom according to Casey did not bring any music of their own to Harvard.
“His true favorite, true love in music was Tony Bennett,” Dolan said, “And so he had a Hi-Fi system that he played Tony Bennett all the time.”
Most of all though, he had a diverse friend group with “quite different interests and backgrounds,” and according to Dolan, Fitzsimmons was able to get along well with all of them. According to both Casey and Dolan, Fitzsimmons was “easygoing” and a great friend to have.
“He’s easy to get along with, we never had any squabbles of any kind and continued to room together because we were pretty compatible,” Casey said. “Good choice on our parts to be roommates.”
As a member of the hockey team, Fitzsimmons was seen as a rising star, who joined a tough season for the Crimson and was dedicated to the team. Welch fondly recalls Fitzsimmons’s underdog role during a close game the team played against Cornell, in which a brawl broke out.
“The Cornell goalie was going to enter into the brawl, and lo, Billy Fitz from 100 feet down the rink comes flying up and tackles the Cornell goalie, evening the slate,” Welch said.
Alan D. Bersin ’68, remembered Fitzsimmons as having played a unique role in Pi Eta, a social club which catered to students from blue-collar backgrounds who identified less with a traditional elite final club demographic.
“At the Pi Eta, you could always find him willing to engage in intelligent discussion, not something that was always the case at the Pi Eta Club,” Bersin said.
Even today, Fitzsimmons still continues to maintain friendships with several of his classmates. According to Welch, Fitzsimmons will always “return my note.” Remaining an avid athlete, Fitzsimmons often golfs and travels with classmates, including Joseph J. O’Donnell ’67, who recalled a longtime friendship in the works.
“Fitzy and I were a little bit kindred spirits,” O’Donnell, currently a fellow of the Harvard Corporation, said. “Our friendship lasted through school...in the 50 years since then we have become very close friends.”
Throughout his time at the College, Fitzsimmons remained in close touch with his family, only a few miles away in Weymouth, Mass., where he was raised. During their first year, Dolan, a South Dakota native new to the East Coast, recalled being “adopted” and taken in by the Fitzsimmons family.
“I was a strange person to them because they had never really met anyone from the Midwest, and they were quite exotic for me as well,” Dolan said.
Visiting the family with Fitzsimmons frequently on weekends, Dolan particularly noted the closeness of the family, which consisted of Fitzsimmons, his two parents, and three brothers.
“They were just supportive of each other and I thought that was a wonderful tradition which was really the result of I think his parents which engendered that spirit within the family,” Dolan said. “All very close.”
Additionally, Fitzsimmons also held a close connection with his high school, where he has twice spoke at their graduation. In recognition of his achievements, Archbishop Williams inducted Fitzsimmons into both the school’s Athletic and Academic Hall of Fame, making him the first graduate honored for contributions on the classroom and the field.
Friends and colleagues say these ties to his roots have remained with him throughout and have manifested themselves in the way in which Fitzsimmons leads the Admissions Office.
“One of the things that makes him distinct here at Harvard...is that he never loses the sense of his family’s stories,” said Marlyn E. McGrath ’70, director of admissions at the College. “What he knows is that families are different and he has a particular family story...For a kid from Weymouth, he has a remarkable sense of the complexity of the United States in every cultural way you can imagine.”
McGrath has referred to Fitzsimmons as the creative leader and spearhead of Harvard’s modern financial aid program, which has been recognized as providing access for students of all backgrounds to Harvard.
“Harvard’s been I think at the forefront of really creating a meritocracy, and it’s altogether fitting and proper that...Dean Fitzsimmons presided over that gateway,” Bersin said. “He became a gatekeeper that helped to change the face of America.”
Having assumed the deanship in 1986, Fitzsimmons has served in his current role now for more than 30 years and has been with Harvard even before then, both in the admissions office and briefly with the Harvard College Fund. Even immediately upon graduation, Fitzsimmons had opted to stay around campus and attend the Graduate School of Education for his Master’s and doctorate degrees.
“Both the graduate study and variety of ancillary experiences proved rewarding,” Fitzsimmons wrote in the Class of 1967’s Fifth Anniversary Report.
The long-term commitment and passion for Harvard that Fitzsimmons has held has been ubiquitously recognized by his classmates.
“When I think of Fitzy, the first thing I think about is his passion for the task—his passion for Harvard and to put the right kind of class together,” O’Donnell said. “That’s an art form, that’s not a science.”
During his time as an undergraduate, most did not predict that Fitzsimmons would become such an established member of the Harvard administration, but they had to admit that they were not surprised.
“I’m not surprised only because he fit in well with Harvard, and he was a well known jockey, a jock...and then he went into the field of education,” Dolan said. “So in some respects I wasn’t surprised that he went back to Harvard in an administrative capacity and has stayed there all these years.”
Having worked with Fitzsimmons for several decades, McGrath believes that Fitzsimmons’s commitment to the University stems from a gratitude for “opportunities that Harvard provided for him” and an affinity for working with students, Welch said.
For Fitzsimmons himself, though, the ability to give back to other students around the world was the most exciting.
“I realized how precious an opportunity it was to attend Harvard and that there were many students from across the nation and around the world who might never think of applying,” Fitzsimmons wrote. “So when I had the opportunity to work in the admissions office in 1972, I jumped at it.”
The dedication Fitzsimmons has had for Harvard and the role he has held in shaping the course of admissions for the University have created long lasting impacts, which have been recognized by several of his classmates.
“In the course of a lifetime you begin to measure the legacy of classmates,” Bersin said. “He chose the road less traveled by, and that made all the difference for many many many young people in America with a beneficial impact on the fabric of this country.”