John W. Fitzwater, Sr. enrolled in the University of Kentucky in the fall of 1958 with the goal of becoming a sports writer for a daily newspaper. In the fall of 1959 he pledged and was initiated in Beta Nu Kappa Sigma. During his time at UK he was sports editor of the Kentucky Kernel, treasurer of Kappa Sigma, Kappa Sig rush chairman and social chairman. He worked as a table waiter at the football house and student assistant in the Sports Information office.
In 1961 he returned to his hometown of Somerset because of his mother’s illness. He never returned to complete his degree being 17 hours short of graduating. He went to work for the Somerset newspaper and became involved in the Somerset Jaycees. He was elected president at age 25 and at the end of his presidency the chapter was recognized as the No. 1 chapter in America in civic improvement.
Two years later at age 27, he became the youngest president of the Kentucky Jaycees in its history. In 1968-69 John was Director of Administration for the U.S. Jaycees in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During that time he was placed on loan to the White House to help create the National Center for Voluntary Action and later was on a White House fact-finding trip to South Vietnam reporting back to the President. In 1970 the Jaycees named him one of Kentucky’s 3 Outstanding Young Men.
From 1972 until 2008 John published eight daily newspapers in six states working for the New York Times Company. He was instrumental in establishing the Economic Development Council in Florence, Alabama and Gainesville, Florida. He chaired the Lakeland, Florida Economic Development Council in 2001-2002.
In 1998 the New York Times Company asked him to chair Celebrate 2000, a coordinated effort of the Time’s properties to celebrate the beginning of the 21st Century. The project became so popular that other newspapers across the country purchased the rights to sponsor Celebrate in their own communities. It was estimated that more than 200 daily newspapers from coast to coast ran the program.
Florida Governor Jeb Bush appointed him to the Florida Council of 100 in 1999 and he served for eight years. John has received numerous awards for his involvement in economic development and United Way in various communities.
After retiring in 2007, he became president of the $120,000,000 Community Foundation of Greater Lakeland, a post he held for three years.
John has two children, son, John, Jr. of Somerset and daughter, Katherine of Lakeland, Florida. He and his wife, Lu, make their home in Lakeland where he continues to be involved in many civic affairs.