In 1967, after a tour of duty in Vietnam had paved the way for a career in dentistry in Pittsburgh, William "Mike" Fitzgerald soon realized his heart was more suited for the jungle than the office. With that in mind, he and his wife, Susan, kicked off a lifelong adventure that led to a world-renowned sporting and luxury travel agency.
Mr. Fitzgerald -- cofounder, president and CEO of Wexford-based Frontiers Travel -- died April 7 from complications related to a stroke. He was 74. A memorial service was held at the Allegheny Country Club in Sewickley on April 21.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, and a graduate of Ohio State University, Mr. Fitzgerald tied his business to his family from its inception, when he purchased the property that held his family home and the guest house that served as the business' headquarters.
Daughter Mollie Fitzgerald said the rural location helped her father pass along his affinity for all things outdoors to his children.
"The house was sort of like a campout," she said. "There were a lot of adventures while my dad was working to start the company."
Not that starting the company wasn't an epic quest in itself. Mr. Fitzgerald's first steps in establishing the business were toward remote destinations in Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and other roads that were somewhat less-traveled by Americans. After traveling to Iran, Iceland, Canada and Africa, the Fitzgeralds realized the company would thrive if it emphasized the chance to see exotic destinations.
In the early 1970s, the company began offering trips for salmon fishing in Iceland and African safaris, and expanded to Denmark, Colombia, Boca Paila, Mexico and Alaska. Originally called "Fish & Game Frontiers Inc.," the company was officially established as Frontiers International Travel around that period. In the late 1990s, the company recorded more than $30 million in sales through fishing and bird-shooting expeditions as well as the "Elegant Journeys" component that focuses on luxury travel.
By 2007, the company was serving 8,000 clients per year with sales of approximately $41 million.
Miss Fitzgerald, who became a co-owner of the business with her brother Mike in 1987, said her father was dedicated to overseeing general operations even after he stepped down from day-to-day duties several years ago.
And even though the family business grew to a point where it was rare they could all take family vacations together, Miss Fitzgerald said her father always would make it a point to take annual trips with each of his children. Even when he couldn't show his family the world, Miss Fitzgerald said, he would bring the world to the family by keeping an open door to African safari owners or South American fish lodge owners.
That open-door policy was reflective of an overall character that attracted good people to support his company but kept them as friends, his daughter said.
"He was a very good listener and he was a creative and lateral thinker. He was good at problem solving and finding fair situations to challenging situations," she said. "He was very diplomatic."
In addition to his wife and children, Mr. Fitzgerald is survived by a sister, Sandra Westfall of Davis, Calif.; and a granddaughter. The family suggests donations to the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Cancer Caring Center and the Smile Train charities.
Deborah M. Todd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1652. First Published May 4, 2013 4:00 AM