Cancer claims life of retired Urbana officer

URBANA – A longtime Urbana police officer is being remembered as a man of integrity who set the standard for professionalism in police work.

Timothy Fitzpatrick, 56, of rural Champaign, died about 10:45 a.m. Monday at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, where he was struggling to recover from major cancer surgery that he underwent Oct. 24.

His wife of 28 years, Krystal Fitzpatrick, interim police chief at the University of Illinois, was with him as were other close friends.

"He always set the standard for integrity and honesty and professionalism. In that regard he was a little bit of a role model," said Larry Adelsberger, the investigator for the Champaign County state's attorney's office who worked with Fitzpatrick on the Urbana police force for some 11 years.

"Tim was without question my closest and longest personal friend," said an emotional Adelsberger, who also launched a private detective agency with Fitzpatrick after Adelsberger left the department in 1988.

Adelsberger said he got to spend several hours visiting with Fitzpatrick last Thursday and was there when Tim and Kris received "some pretty straightforward news from the doctors that this was not going to be good."

Fitzpatrick retired from the Urbana Police Department in July 2002, where he had started in 1974.

He was raised in the Metro-East area near St. Louis, but said he enjoyed the small-town living of Champaign-Urbana because it was safe and comfortable but had a large-city flavor, given the entertainment, dining and recreation here.

He and Kris lived in a more than 100-year-old farmhouse that has been in her family for four generations.

At the Urbana Police Department, he worked his way up through the ranks from patrol to investigations to administration, departing from the department as the assistant chief of police.

Now-retired Chief Eddie Adair appointed Fitzpatrick as his assistant when he arrived from Memphis in 1994.

"He was a tremendous asset to me, being that I was an outsider, a newcomer to the area, and had no prior knowledge of the culture of the police department. I really relied on him initially in almost everything I was involved with," Adair said, adding that Fitzpatrick played a key role in community policing.

"Tim was highly intelligent, highly motivated, analytical and just a true professional and a credit to law enforcement," said Kent Fletcher, whose law enforcement career overlapped Fitzpatrick's. Fletcher retired from the Champaign County sheriff's office in 1997 after working there 28 years.

In the early 1980s, Fletcher and Fitzpatrick served together on the Major Case Squad, an intergovernmental unit of the brightest area detectives working primarily on murder investigations.

"That unit was pulled together by the departments because the chiefs saw the need for putting some of their best people and best minds together on the significant, complicated, high-profile or serial cases," said Mike Metzler, the lieutenant who currently oversees the investigations division of the Urbana Police Department.

Metzler, who started with Urbana in 1979, worked both on the street and in investigations with Fitzpatrick and was among his many close friends. Fitzpatrick was the godfather to his daughter. Metzler's wife Patty, a longtime Carle Hospital nurse, was with the Fitzpatricks when Tim died.

"He was my mentor. We were friends for many years," Metzler said, his voice breaking.

Champaign County Presiding Judge Tom Difanis called Fitzpatrick a "dedicated and thorough" police officer.

"He was a good person but far and away one of the best police officers I've ever dealt with. He wanted to do what was right. He was driven. He really was. When he was there, he was there for business," said Difanis, who was state's attorney from 1976 to 1995.

Champaign attorney David Bailie said he got to know Fitzpatrick when he was an assistant in the Champaign County state's attorney's office between 1973 and 1981, and the area investigators routinely met for drinks and stories. The prosecutors joined in.

He and his wife Laurel got to be close friends with the Fitzpatricks and in the early '80s, also brought Tracy and Claudia Nugent into their circle. Tracy Nugent is a lawyer in the same firm that Laurel Bailie works at and Claudia Nugent is a local doctor.

"Along with the Nugents, Tim and Kris and Laurel and I went skiing for decades. Once a year, we'd plan a trip out West and all go. We'd rent a place, ski during the day, hot tub, go to bars, nice restaurants," Bailie said. "During our time here (in town) we get together weekly in each others' home. Tim and Kris and Laurel and I would meet in Chicago the day after Thanksgiving and go shopping on the craziest day of the year, then try to find a new restaurant," Bailie said, adding that the Fitzpatricks, who never had children, were like an aunt and uncle to his two grown daughters.

Fitzpatrick had a bout with colon cancer 20 years ago that barely slowed him down. Bailie noted that Fitzpatrick had recently celebrated having been cancer-free for two decades when he was hit with the news that it had invaded again.

"You don't have any better friends. Tim was an upstanding man. He called right 'right' and wrong 'wrong' and looked the world in the eye and did what was right," Bailie said.

News-Gazette staff writer Steve Bauer contributed to this report.

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