‘Big Tom’ remembered as having big heart

Tara
Tara Bradbury
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Popular radio DJ dead at 38

“Big Tom” in the K-ROCK Shed in February 2009. — Telegram file photo

Anyone who knew Tom “Big Tom” Fitzgerald personally could tell you he was as big in real life as he was on air.

Big voice. Big personality. Big heart.

It was his heart that failed him in the end — he died early Wednesday morning, having been in hospital for about a week, struggling with endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner layer of his heart. He would have turned 39 this Friday.

A native of Bell Island, Fitzgerald had been co-hosting the morning show on K-ROCK for years, as well as “Saturday in the Shed.”

An Alice Cooper fan who even had Cooper’s autograph tattooed on the inside of his arm, Fitzgerald was at home on the classic rock music station, and called his career a “dream job.”

He had no formal training in broadcasting, and had worked at Steele Communications in advertising sales before he applied for an on-air position about 10 years ago.

Once there, he blossomed.

Unforgettable laugh

Fans came to know Fitzgerald for his overflowing personality, his deep, gravelly voice and his hearty, unforgettable laugh. He seemed eternally optimistic, on air and off, and made friends wherever he went. He spoke often on the radio of his eight-year-old daughter, Sophie, and friends know he was a very proud papa.

His personal motto, written in his Twitter bio, was, “Life … live it and love it as hard as you can.”

“When people pass, everybody says good things, but Tom was a guy who really cared about a lot of people and had a great work ethic,” said Steele Communications boss John Steele, choking up. “He was, first and foremost, a good friend. He was a fun-loving guy, but he was a guy that was always there for you when it counted. You could really rely on him.”

Fitzgerald’s willingness didn’t end with his friends — he was up for anything, from getting the K-ROCK logo tattooed on his butt to going on a blind date for the morning show, and raising money for charity. He spent a week in the station’s mobile shed to raise funds for Daffodil Place in 2009, and another last year with morning show co-hosts Candice Udle and Mike Campbell to earn money for Ronald McDonald House.

Campbell and Udle were on the air Wednesday morning when the station was informed of Fitzgerald’s death. The hosts went to a commercial break, as usual, and never returned to the air.

Udle was too distraught to speak, sending a comment to The Telegram via text message instead.

“I’m still in shock, and words can’t describe how I feel right now,” she said. “Tom has been like a big brother to me. Not only did I lose a co-worker, but I lost a friend. Just knowing Tommy has made me a better person. We shared some wonderful moments together. We shared a studio, office and even a shed for a week. These memories I will have forever.”

Paul Kinsman, host of OZFM’s Dawn Patrol morning show, knew Fitzgerald personally, not professionally. Their employers may be competitors, but the two deejays weren’t.

“We would see each other nearly every day at school, picking up our daughters, and would joke that the early morning hours we both worked would kill us,” Kinsman said. “There are people who have earned broadcasting degrees and still don’t possess what came so easy to Tom, that rare, natural ability to connect with listeners instantly. It was his gift and our loss.”

Online tributes to Fitzgerald came pouring in by the hundreds as word of his death spread, and “Big Tom” and “RIP Big Tom” were trending topics on Twitter in Canada for a few hours Wednesday morning.

Many Telegram readers commented online that they felt they knew Fitzgerald on a personal level, growing attached to him through their car radios.

By Wednesday afternoon, fans were laying bouquets of flowers underneath Fitzgerald’s picture on the shed, which is parked in the Steele Communications parking lot.

“His popularity was due to the fact that he could connect to the audience because he was so real and he had that laugh and all that,” Steele said.

Details on a funeral service for Fitzgerald have not yet been announced.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Steele Communications

Geographic location: Bell Island, Canada

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  • Colin
    April 26, 2012 - 22:37

    To Big Tom Senior I am so sorry for your sons loss although I never met him I listened to him every day and knew how proud you were of him. He will always right beside you Tom , you will feel him.

  • jerome
    April 26, 2012 - 18:09

    Tom you made my early mornings bright and lively.That laugh of yours will live on for all your K-ROCK listeners.Rest in heaven and maybe one day we will meet to have a chat.GOD BLESS

  • Jen
    April 26, 2012 - 17:42

    even though i did not know tom personally, i truly feel the impact of this loss. i listened to mike, candice and big tom every morning and rarely missed a saturday in the shed. before saturday in the shed i was tuned into big hairy tunes and of course long ago when he used to spend saturday nights at lotties on george. newfoundland has lost a great talent and i will never be able to listen to krock again without missing his wonderful laugh. my thoughts are with his sweet daughter, the rest of his family and krock family and his large group of friends and loved ones. take care of each other. big tom forever.

  • Jack Byrne
    April 26, 2012 - 15:19

    I now realize that even though we were related I lost an opportunity to know a Great person and with out a doubt a Great friend. Rest in Peace Tommy Love always the Byrne Family

  • Ken
    April 26, 2012 - 12:17

    I would listen to Saturday in The Shed religiously. It didn't matter if I was mowing the lawn or snow blowing the driveway or just cleaning up the house, Tom was heard. I would look forward to the 1:00 show on K-Rock because it was so enjoyable and fun. Tommy was as energetic at the beginning of the show as he was at the end. It is kind of hard to explain but when you heard Tom on Saturday's it was different than any other day. You knew it was Saturday and it was a time to relax and kick back and have a laugh. I will surely miss this as nobody can fill that spot. God Bless Tommy.

  • Fay
    April 26, 2012 - 12:11

    I've been a K-Rock fan for years now and Big Tom was by far my favorite! Loved listening to him every morning and on Saturdays. The K-Rock morning show made me laugh every single morning and still will but it just won't be the same without Big Tom. He was one of a kind and no one can or will replace him. He'll be missed by many.

  • helene goyer
    April 26, 2012 - 12:01

    my shed will never be the same. his laugh just filled it, even though he wasn't really there. He was a gentlemen and a gentlemen always knows when to leave. rest well knowing he's at peace

  • Janice
    April 26, 2012 - 11:22

    R.I.P BIG TOM, loved listening to you in the mornings and on saturdays, you certainly will be missed by everyone.

  • Johnny
    April 26, 2012 - 11:13

    I know that K-Rock will gone on, but it will never be the same without BIG TOM. He was one of a kind. R.I.P. BUDDY.

  • Dave E
    April 26, 2012 - 09:34

    The best voice in rock radio is quiet now, taken from us all too soon... A friendly laugh from a happy guy made you feel better and brightened any day. I feel like I've lost an old friend. Love and Condolences to all family and friends, we all cry with you and will miss him everyday. I'll raise a toast to my near and dear and to Tom on Saturday in the Shed. :(

  • ShedNation
    April 26, 2012 - 09:19

    RIP Big Tom...I heard everything in heaven is deep fried so im sure you will get alot of use out of your new "Chip Fryer". Forever missed but never forgotten.

  • Dave
    April 26, 2012 - 08:38

    To quote a Bruce Springsteen song that he wrote in memory of the death of one of his buddies: "When they built you, brother, they turned dust into gold, Whent they built you, brother, they broke the mold." Rest in Peace Big Tom.

  • Karen
    April 26, 2012 - 08:24

    I too would like to send my condolences to Big Tom's family and friends. He touched so many hearts; even if you didn't know Big Tom personally - if you were a K-Rock listerner, it felt like he was one of your good friends. It's going to be difficult listening to Saturday in the Shed, he is what made the Shed (The Shed) ...but we will Big Tom, we'll continue listening and your spirit will be with us all. Your distinstive voice and laugh, and your personaliity will live on forever in our hearts. RIP Big Tom and ROCK ON!!!!

  • Joan
    April 26, 2012 - 08:06

    I've only started to listen to KRock since i've returned home from New Brunswick, every morning here at work would listen to k rock, and Tom had the voice like no other, i enjoyed listening his laugh and big heart, he'll be missed, my condolences to Tom's Family and his daughter Sophie. R.I. P Tom

  • Joan
    April 26, 2012 - 08:05

    I've only started to listen to KRock since i've returned home from New Brunswick, every morning here at work would listen to k rock, and Tom had the voice like no other, i enjoyed listening his laugh and big heart, he'll be missed, my condolences to Tom's Family and his daughter Sophie. R.I. P Tom

  • Rob
    April 26, 2012 - 07:30

    I want to add my voice to the outpouring of grief over Big Tom's passing. I would never have thought I'd be taking the time to send condolences for a person I didn't know. While we only crossed paths one time, at the shed contest held a couple of years ago at the Yellow Belly pub, he none-the-less enriched my life every day with his wit, hearty and genuine laugh and his true love of this island rock and the music he spun. He spoke with a distinct, unmasked and unpretentious Newfoundland voice and that truly endeared his audience to him. Since he first came on the air I have only tuned in to one station. I will honour his memory by continuing to do the same.

    • Darlene
      April 26, 2012 - 11:49

      97.5 K Rock will never be the same without Big Tom!!!

  • christine mcgrath
    April 26, 2012 - 07:23

    you were like family to us. how can one person be so powerfull as big tom was.he didn,t have to put on a show or try hard. he was the person he was and that came easy to him. he was like a giant with this soft heart that sometimes you could see those tears running down his face. for a man to do this was amasing. that,s what i liked about big tom. WE LOVE YOU BUDDY.. R. I. P. TOMMY GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

  • Steve
    April 26, 2012 - 06:56

    R.I.P. B.I.G. T.O.M. :`(