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Jun 4, 2012 10:33 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Heather Fitzgerald, Hampton Bays Middle School Teacher's Aide, Dead At 30

Jun 6, 2012 10:37 AM

Heather Nikole Fitzgerald, a special education teacher’s aide at the Hampton Bays Middle School, died suddenly on Saturday, June 2, at her home in Hampton Bays. She was 30.

The cause of death was not immediately known, and friends of the family said on Tuesday that they are awaiting the results of an autopsy.

Friends and family both described Ms. Fitzgerald, better known to her students as “Ms. Fitz,” as a kind, compassionate person with a huge heart.

“She has always loved children,” her mother, Kimberly McElrath, of Southampton, said. “She has always had a passion to teach, especially for disabled children.”

Born on March 23, 1982, Ms. Fitzgerald graduated from Southampton High School in 2000. She went on to receive an associate degree from Dean College in Massachusetts and a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue.

At Hampton Bays Middle School, she has worked one-on-one with special needs fifth- and eighth-graders for the past three years. Prior to that, she served as a substitute teacher in the district.

“She had a special knack for dealing with the neediest of students,” said Janine Bishop, a teacher at Hampton Bays Middle School and a close friend of Ms. Fitzgerald.

Ms. Bishop said the students looked up to Ms. Fitzgerald as a role model. “They absolutely adored her,” she added. Ms. Bishop recalled the time when Ms. Fitzgerald asked a student what he wanted to be when he grew up. His response: “I want to be you, Ms. Fitz.”

In a prepared joint statement, Hampton Bays Board of Education members described Ms. Fitzgerald as a respected member of the school and community.

“She was always going above and beyond what was required,” they wrote in a statement. “Whether she was helping in the library during her break, providing after-school extra help to a student in need, or volunteering her nights to assist the Middle School Drama Club, Ms. Fitzgerald was always centered around helping the children. Her hard work and dedication to the Hampton Bays students, as well as her overwhelmingly positive spirit, will be sorely missed.”

Ms. Fitzgerald was especially close with her 18-month-old niece, Kailee, who lives in Calverton. “She was her everything,” Ms. McElrath said.

Before becoming a teacher’s aide, Ms. Fitzgerald spent many summers working as a baby sitter in the Hamptons, beginning when she was a teenager. For nine years, she baby-sat the two children—Jack, 13, and Raymond, 10—of Therese Sweeney of Southampton, becoming a part of their family, Ms. Sweeney said.

“You’re giving your life to someone, and that was never questioned,” Ms. Sweeney said, about trusting Ms. Fitzgerald with her children. “There’s so many words that I could use, but I will say that she was giving, she was loving, she was fun, she was responsible. She did anything she could for anyone.”

In addition to teaching and baby-sitting, friends and family said Ms. Fitzgerald loved animals—she helped the Sweeney family choose their dog, a German shepherd. Survivors also said she loved the ocean. “Heather put flip-flops on the moment the snow melted,” Ms. Sweeney said.

Victoria Muller of Southampton, a close friend of Ms. Fitzgerald since they entered middle school, described her friend as a “very, very fun person” with a bubbly personality who loved to entertain others.

“She was a good chardonnay drinker,” Ms. Muller joked, while reminiscing with Ms. McElrath about Ms. Fitzgerald’s love for life.

Ms. Bishop said she will remember Ms. Fitzgerald most for her generosity. “She would wake up every morning and ask herself, ‘How can I help someone?’” Ms. Bishop said.

And to honor her friend, Ms. Bishop offered what was Ms. Fitzgerald’s motto for life: “Be kind, be caring, be supportive and leave everyone you pass smiling.”

In addition to her mother and niece, Ms. Fitzgerald is survived by her father, Thomas (T.J.) McElrath of Southampton, and two brothers, Adam of Calverton and Todd of Manhattan.

The family received friends on Tuesday, June 5, at the Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton, where a parish prayer service was offered. A Liturgy of Christian Burial was celebrated on Wednesday, June 6, at the Basilica of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary on Hill Street in Southampton. A private cremation will follow.

Memorial donations made to the Nassau/Suffolk Chapter of the Autism Society of America, P.O. Box 7472, Wantagh, NY, 11793, would be appreciated by the family.

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RIP Heather!
By Missie Mahoney (2), Sag Harbor on Jun 4, 12 11:16 AM
Luke and I will always love Heather.
By Kmac (1), Southampton on Jun 4, 12 2:23 PM
2 members liked this comment
To my cousin Heather. I know its been a while since we talked. But i did think of you often all the fun times we had when we were little sleep overs pillow fights watching the beauty pagents..U will truly be missed you are in my heart forever R.I.P. love you .. your cousin Korene
By korene (1), carmel on Jun 4, 12 3:41 PM
You were the best teacher i saw at the libaray everytime i came in you made me laugh and you made me smilie nd you would also make my day ! I remebered when u told me nd ma sister about how sweet is it that we are alwayz reading the same book ! I ll remeber u in ma heart 4ever !!! R.I.P!!
By ruthieluvzu (1), hampton bays on Jun 4, 12 5:20 PM
My prayers to her family, friends, and students.
By just breath (82), yuck on Jun 4, 12 5:33 PM
I love u .... it broke my heart when yall moved away and just as i found u agin my heart is now broken forever!!!! my family i love and untill we see each other agin i will continue to relive all the fond memories we all had a part in creating! i allways wonder if ur mom still makes saled w/ huge chunks of fetta, or our bagle brackfast with loads of creamcheese....;) playing in the grage on uncle TJs workout ball, the forts in the woods, ur guina pig " the cover up " with ur mom .... she drug ...more
By lisdawn (1), lakeland on Jun 4, 12 9:10 PM
So, so sad. Way too young. My thoughtsand prayers are with the family all that knew and loved Heather.
By Mrs.Sea (268), Sag Harbor on Jun 5, 12 12:29 PM
Heather, it sounds like you touched a LOT of peoples lives while you were among us, RIP Honey, too soon taken away .
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Jun 5, 12 3:31 PM
“You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her only that she is gone,
or you can cherish her memory ...more
By guest (68), Bridgehampton on Jun 5, 12 10:58 PM
To my "house spouse" you will never know how much you meant to me and the kids....will love and miss you always... H, M & S xoxo
By SHSeniors (1), Hampton Bays on Jun 7, 12 2:11 PM
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