Remembering a devoted newsman, Brendan FitzSimons

Oct 1, 2020


Publisher | Nogales International

Brendan FitzSimons, editor and publisher of the Nogales International from 1984 to 1996, died on Wednesday, Aug. 26, at the age of 81. He lost a seven-year battle to cancer. He was living in Tucson, where he shared a home with Jeanne, his best friend, golf partner, business colleague and his wife of 50 years.

I met them in 1985 at the offices of the Nogales International, where Brendan had offered me a paid internship. We had a staff of about six full-timers, including Jeanne, who was the business manager. Among the others who worked in the newsroom or freelanced during my tenure were Kelly Donahue, Laurie Houle Gutierrez, Kathleen Vandervoet, Valerie Hing, Mara Reyes and Kathy Scott. Lourdes Huicochea Hervey and Lorena Ainza worked in advertising, Emma Salazar was in production, and Ricardo Villarreal, who is still with the paper, was in charge of circulation.

A proud Catholic immigrant from Northern Ireland who had experienced The Troubles first hand, as well as a U.S. Navy vet, FitzSimons was a tough boss. His B.S. meter was always on high alert, and he did not suffer fools gladly. Before landing in Arizona, he was a reporter covering everything from government corruption to the New York Giants for newspapers in New York and Connecticut.

Since arriving, Brendan immersed himself in the community. He likened the warm Mexican culture and values to that of the Irish. His patriotism for this country was unquestionable, even though he purportedly made it onto President Richard Nixon’s Enemies List. He did not miss one Veterans Day or Memorial Day observance in the seven years I worked for him, always highlighting local vets and the fallen in the pages of the NI. He regularly pushed the military to supply us with news about our men and women in uniform, especially during the Gulf War. In 1989, when we lost one of our own, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Jorge Verdugo in a training exercise in Japan, we jumped on the story, interviewed the parents and covered the funeral with full military honors. It was the first time I saw Brendan tear up.

The second time was in 1991, when Arizona Department of Public Safety Sgt. Manuel “Manny” Hurtado Tapia was shot and killed by a drug smuggler. Tapia was only 41, the father of three young children. Again, it was all hands on deck — from the procession from Nogales to the St. Augustin Cathedral in Tucson to the funeral Mass and interment.

In 2006, FitzSimons was inducted into the Arizona Newspapers Association Hall of Fame. He had recently ended a 50-year career in the newspaper business when he retired as publisher of the San Pedro Valley News-Sun and Arizona Range News, part of Wick Communications, for which FitzSimons worked for 16 years.

At the time, the late Walt Wick, co-chairman of the board of Wick Communications, said: “With truth and integrity being every part of his being, he was always a wonderful editor and publisher for Wick Communications. He honored Wick by producing fine community newspapers.”

FitzSimons worked with Arthur Helms at the Stamford Advocate in the 1970s. At the ANA gala, Helms said: “One thing I can remember is starting out as the greenest of reporters, and I remember Brendan, who was sitting in the slot of my first nervous days. If he didn’t rule the roost, he might as well have, because he always commanded our attention and respect. I think it was partly the eyes. They looked at you, and they could twinkle and burn at the same time. I don’t think I ever met anyone who embodied so completely what it means to be a newsman.”

In addition to his wife, Jeanne, Brendan is also survived by his brother Patrick FitzSimons (Millie) of Caliente, Nevada; sisters Margaret McGowan and Irene Toner of Northern Ireland; brother-in-law John Pugliese (Marianne) of Milford, Connecticut, and many nieces and nephews.

Services were private.

Manuel Coppola is publisher of the Nogales International.