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Frank Fitzpatrick

September 10, 2010

Behind every article and book Frank Fitzpatrick writes, lies the soul of a passionate story teller. He shares with many other writers an uncanny attention to details, a good ear for the cadence of dialogue and a keen awareness of human complexities. It's all connected, Fitzpatrick says, to a deeply rooted sense of place in a city populated by his ample family. Frank Fitzpatrick is a writer and editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer. A Pulitzer prize finalist, he's also the author of three books on sports.



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Sometime around midnight on July 21, 1980,I finished my first night's work at the Philadelphia Inquirer. I was elated as I exited its landmark white-tower and was confronted by the twinkling city skyline. After nearly a decade at smaller newspapers elsewhere, I finally was working for a Pulitzer Prize-winning giant. And in my beloved hometown, no less.


I believe in Philadelphia.


I know, it's not always easy. The city is dirty, crime-ridden, corrupt. Its residents are possessed of a maddening inferiority complex and at times seem to revel in negativity.


But fear and loathing are such shallow emotions. Nothing like love. I often tell people my attachment to Philly is visceral. When I'm away, I ache to return. When I'm downtown, or at a South Philly restaurant, I feel remarkably connected, as if the city and I were a single living organism.


In my 30 years at the Inquirer, I've had opportunities to move. I couldn't do it, in large part because I knew I'd miss Philly. I couldn't imagine walking streets that had no personal meaning, celebrating Christmas without the light show at Wanamaker's -- By the way, we Philadelphians will always refer to the iconic department store building by its rightful name -- or rooting for sports teams my grandfathers hadn't pulled for.


Like so many in this old city, my roots are deep. I can hardly drive down a street in Frankford, North Philly or Center City without experiencing some kinship.


The four branches of my family have been embedded here for centuries. Until the middle of the 1900s, almost all were blue-collar occupants of brick rowhouses on crowded, narrow streets.


My urge to share the wonders of this great and diverse metropolis is a powerful one. Like my grandmother, who gave tours while riding the R bus, I've become an unofficial guide, ushering visitors and suburbanites who have lost touch with Philly to places with historic and personal significance.


My wife and I are empty-nesters now. On free Saturday mornings, we like to grab a cup of coffee and take a ride. We've explored the shoddy Kensington streets and storefronts that were the setting for "Rocky". We've eaten Stock's pound cakes, Caccia's pizza and the wondrous long-johns at Relli's Bakery, which, sadly, like my 32-inch waist, is now gone.


We've driven through Port Richmond and Mayfair, Queens Village and Southwark, and we haven't even touched the surface of this great city.


Recently not long after one of our Saturday drives, we went to the Mann Center to see Tony Bennett. From up there on Strawberry Mansion, on a gorgeous evening, the city's skyline, was breathtaking.


Bennett, of course, sang his signature piece, "I Left My Heart in San Francisco". As I sat there listening, surrounded by 155-year-old Fairmount Park, not far from the scene of so many of Thomas Eakins' greatest paintings, I knew exactly where my heart was.


And always will be.