William A. Fitzgerald, who continued a family tradition as head of Commercial Federal Corp. for more than 20 years and once saved the banking company, died Friday September 8 2017 at age 79.
Fitzgerald became chief executive of the Omaha-based banking company in 1983 and chairman in 1994, serving in those positions until Commercial Federal was purchased in 2005 by Bank of the West of San Francisco.
His son, Tate, said he died at home, where he had been in hospice care for nearly two months, and had battled symptoms of pancreatic cancer for about three years. Bill Fitzgerald was dedicated to Catholic education and service, Tate said.
Like his father and grandfather, Bill Fitzgerald spent his business career at Commercial Federal, starting at age 14 and retiring at 67.
Fitzgerald said his age at the time, 67, and the wear of increasingly regular executive shakeups influenced his decision to recommend a sale. Bank of the West’s $1.36 billion bid in 2005 won approval from Commercial Federal’s board and stockholders.
In 1999 Commercial Federal had purchased 70 acres of farmland from Girls and Boys Town and developed an office park. The new buildings there helped prompt Bank of the West to locate its companywide mortgage division and other operations in Omaha.
Founded in 1887 as South Omaha Loan and Building Association, the company’s first depositors were meatpackers. James Fitzgerald, an Irish immigrant, became its first full-time secretary and manager in 1893 and then president, changing the name to Commercial Federal in 1920.
His son, William F., took over in 1955, and served as CEO through 1984. By the end of 1986, one in four Nebraskans had a Commercial Federal account.
Fitzgerald earned a bachelor’s degree in business at Creighton University in 1959, served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army and completed graduate banking programs at the University of Georgia and the University of Indiana.
He served on Creighton University’s board of trustees for 40 years, including the chairmanship from 1999 to 2011, a time of momentous change and campus growth for the university. He was named chairman emeritus in 2013.
Besides his wife and son he is survived by daughters Kelli Draper and Katie Fitzgerald; sisters Mary Frances Root and Kathy Grandsaert; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.