Rockridge Library Friends Laud Long-Serving Board Member

Monday, April 13, 2015

Phil Fitzwater has lived in Rockridge since the late 1980s. When describing his life back then, he begins with a story about the library-a temporary trailer near Claremont Middle School that housed the library's books while plans for a new library building were in development.

For Phil, libraries have always been the heart of a neighborhood. He remembers fondly his time spent at Shenandoah Public Library, Iowa, a stately building built in 1905 with the generous support of $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie.

Memories of card catalogs and stamped books put a wistful smile on his face that burst into a kid-like exuberance when he remembered checking out "Thus Spake Zarathustra" by Friedrich Nietzsche when he was 13 years old. Even though the content eluded him, Phil was enthralled by the title and thrilled to have it in his clutches. "Libraries are magic. They give a small-town kid like me a ticket to the world."

He's not so small town anymore-heading Iris Environmental, a successful environmental engineering firm serving cutting-edge high-tech clients-yet his strongly-held belief that the library is a vital core of the community, a safe place where anyone can "just be," has not changed as his world view has broadened.

Phil's interest in supporting his neighborhood library sparked when neighborhood visions of a proper building blossomed into plans - under the leadership of The Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC) and a ten-year committee stewardship by community member Nancy Dutcher - for what would become the Rockridge Library in its current location. When you visit the library today, you'll find floor tiles in the library's foyer marking neighbors' investments in the library's future. Phil's tile has the words, "He soared to the sun, writing the man he might become." He wrote that aspirational passage back in 1996 believing "if you can write it, you can be it."

His interest turned into service when he joined the Friends of the Rockridge Library board as their treasurer. He wanted to "help the library have more resources, to give the library things they couldn't otherwise afford." He joked that he wanted to make sure his donations were well spent, adding, "I'm kind of a control freak." Jokes aside, his imprint on the library is far larger than the 12x12 tile gracing the library's entrance. His influence, his interest, and his inimitable conviction that libraries are vital and worthy of support are unmatched.

Over the past 20 years, Phil's contributions to the Rockridge Library have included the complete set of Metropolitan Opera DVDs, the Horatio Hornblower series, an entire set of classical CDs, the Patrick O'Brian series of historical novels, two sets of leather reading chairs, four laptops used in the checkout program, and a beloved Stickley rocking chair where moms, dads, and caregivers have spent countless days and years reading to their loved ones.

Thank you, Phil, for supporting a space where kids-and kids at heart-can enjoy a lifelong exploration with a ticket to the world they found at the library.