July 15, 2005

Fitzgerald has overseen growth of contracts office

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Sherry Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald has overseen growth of contracts office

When Sherry Fitzgerald started work in the Office of Contracts Administration as a staff assistant 25 years ago, the office handled about 300 contracts annually. That number has since swelled to more than 5,000 annually.

The difference, said Fitzgerald, who retired last month as the office's director, was that departments used to handle their own contracts. As the Medical Center grew, it became more important to have a central office in control of the myriad contracts and liability issues that impacted the Medical Center. During Fitzgerald's career, her office grew into this fundamental role of contract negotiation and management.

“One of the things Gene Fowinkle told me once that I've never forgotten is, 'Don't ever lose your temper in negotiation, unless it is for effect.' When you lose your temper, you lose control, and I translate that into most of my life,” she said.

Negotiation represented one of the most rewarding parts of Fitzgerald's job. “I guess it was best when you finally got a difficult contract that had been hard to negotiate, when both sides were a little bit stubborn, and you finally came to an agreement where everyone was happy with the deal.”

Jeff Kaplan, associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs, noted that "Sherry has been one of the individuals at the Medical Center most committed to serving her 'customers' in a timely, efficient and friendly manner. Her conscientiousness set a wonderful standard which we must strive to maintain."

Another high point during Fitzgerald's time at Vanderbilt was finishing her education, which involved working while attending classes at numerous schools, trying to gather credits for her undergraduate and master's degrees in Business. She encouraged her staff to do the same.

“I guess one achievement that I can feel really proud of is that I had three people get their degrees while they were working for me.” Fitzgerald worked with her employees to schedule their work around classes and exams, so that they could finish their education.

Now that she has retired, Fitzgerald plans to spend more time with the small embroidery business she and her husband George operate. She also plans to spend more time cooking. Of her newfound free time, Fitzgerald says, “When you spend 25 years in one place, and then you go to take on a different part of your life, it's just a strange feeling. Every day seems like Saturday.”

As she begins this new chapter in her life, Fitzgerald says that she has loved her job and her time at Vanderbilt. Her office worked with virtually every aspect of the Medical Center. “I wasn't confined to one small area, and I got to know so many people over the years. It's been a great 25 years. I've loved this place.”