The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, December 18, 2009


Reflecting, every day: Tom Fitzpatrick collects quotes for the masses

Tom Fitzpatrick sits amidst his books, a frequent source of inspiration for his daily reflection piece in the Boston Globe. (Photo by Beth Clarke)

What do British novelist Edith Wharton, American essayist E.B. White and French poet Victor Hugo have in common with Carlisle residents Parkman Howe, Margaret Crouse Skelly and Margaret Darling? Each has written something deemed pithy enough to appear in the Boston Globe’s “Reflection for the Day.” No doubt, Carlisle has many deep thinkers and fine writers, but those who read the Globe’s daily quote segment regularly might suspect that it shows a tiny local bias. And their suspicions would be correct. For the past six years, Tom Fitzpatrick of Bedford Road has served as editor for the Globe’s Reflection for the Day – a role he inherited from his parents, who initiated the feature back in 1984.

“My father was a very busy physician who kept a small appointment book with him at all times,” Fitzpatrick said recently. “He was a collector of quotes and would write them down in his book. At the drop of a hat, for anyone who would sit still long enough, he would pull out his little book and read an appropriate quote.”

In the early 1980s, Fitzpatrick and his wife Gail rented an apartment in Lincoln from Tom Winship, then editor-in-chief of the Globe. Winship subsequently became a patient of the senior Fitzpatrick and found out about the physician’s predilection for elegantly worded insights. Winship suggested he provide favorite quotations as a regular feature in the Globe. Dr. Fitzpatrick recruited his wife as a collaborator and so was launched the family business that Tom Fitzpatrick would later take on as his own. “So in a way, it was DNA plus circumstance,” he said of the decision to assume the role, at his mother’s request, after his father’s death in 2004.

Like his father, Fitzpatrick is a voracious reader who finds the quotes he uses from a variety of sources – but never by actively searching for them. The quotes he uses, Fitzpatrick said, appear to him as nuggets of wisdom or clever witticisms through the course of his regular reading. “It’s like fishing,” he observed. “You don’t exactly go after them; you stand on the shore with your hook in the water and wait for them to swim up to you.” He also goes through his regular daily interactions with an ear cocked for the “bon mot.” One day when he was out for a walk, he ran into a neighbor, local painter Phyllis Hughes. Something she said struck him as memorable, and he went straight inside to write it down for future use in the newspaper.

Fitzpatrick has an abiding love of poetry, “particularly that which is well-structured and craftsmanly,” he said. “I’ve been reading a lot of Robert Frost lately, both poetry and prose. I also like philosophical writing.” In early 2008, Fitzpatrick suffered an iscemic stroke and consequently developed an interest in neuroscience. Discussions with his neurologist at Lahey Clinic opened his eyes to the overlap between the realms of neurology and philosophy, as demonstrated by writers like Dr. Oliver Sacks. 

But he is equally likely to find words of wisdom in other areas of his life. A sentence in one of Parkman Howe’s Forum essays in the Mosquito captured his attention, as did a line from the recently published poetry of Berry Corner Road resident Margaret Crouse Skelly (see the Mosquito, October 16, 2009). When Fitzpatrick’s piano teacher, Margaret Darling of West Street, wrote the instruction in his practice notebook “Stay true to the tempo you set,” that too caught his ear for its note of profundity and formed the basis of the reflection in the Globe, October 27, 2009.

Self-employed throughout his career, Fitzpatrick, who majored in English Literature at Columbia University, worked previously as a copy editor; then his work evolved into the technological side of publishing. The stroke limited his physical mobility somewhat, which only served to amplify his love of reading. For the many months during which he was in the hospital and then a rehabilitation facility, Fitzpatrick had one primary request of friends and relatives who visited him: bring something to read aloud. The experience broadened his literary scope, as he found himself listening to works by authors he would not necessarily have chosen for himself.

Readers can stay up-to-date on Fitzpatrick’s quotes and also offer feedback at his website, When he apologized on the site for falling behind due to his hospitalization, readers responded with words of sympathy, support and encouragement, providing him with a new source of inspiration. But he finds it equally satisfying when readers write simply to say that a quote he chose meant a lot to them. “I tend to be inspired by reading about other people being inspired. The poet William Blake has a quote that says ‘If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.’ Reading about what kept other people going against the odds or against their own sense of defeat has always proved inspirational to me.” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito