FitzGerald, Oliver Patrick Noel (1910–87), physician and physiologist, was born 23 December 1910, at Grangemore, Waterford, the son of Alexis FitzGerald, medical officer at the district asylum, and Lily FitzGerald (née O'Halloran), a relative of the great eighteenth-century surgeon Sylvester O'Halloran (qv). The eldest in a large and talented family of five boys and one girl, he and his brothers all achieved excellence in their chosen careers, most notably Alexis (qv) (1916–85) as an economist and solicitor and Patrick (see below) as a surgeon. Educated at Clongowes Wood College, he entered UCD (1929) to study medicine and graduated MB, B.Ch., BAO (1935), having earlier obtained a B.Sc. in physiology and biochemistry (1933) with first-class honours and a gold medal. He won a travelling studentship in physiology (1937), which enabled him to study at Basel and Cambridge (1937–9). He was awarded the M.Sc. (1937) and the MD (1940) based on his published work.
After his return to Ireland FitzGerald was appointed lecturer in pharmacology and physiology at UCD (1939); he was later appointed lecturer in therapeutics (1952–8) and eventually professor of therapeutics (1958–80). He was simultaneously made assistant physician at St Vincent's Hospital (1940–50) and then physician (1950–83), and for many years was secretary of the medical board of the hospital. He received international recognition for his work on gastric physiology and was admired for his ability to solve clinical problems using a scientific approach. His seminal paper ‘Studies on the physiological chemistry and clinical significance of urease and urea in special reference to the stomach’ was published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science (1950), a journal he later edited. He published in Irish, British, and international medical and scientific journals, and he never lost his interest in research, despite a busy private practice and his responsibilities at UCD. Together with two UCD and St Vincent's colleagues, T. C. O'Connell and Patrick Meenan, he negotiated with the minister for health, T. F. O'Higgins (qv) (1916–2003), for a new voluntary health insurance scheme (1955) that included changes in the way consultants were paid for their work in hospitals.
FitzGerald's contributions to his subject were acknowledged by his election to several prestigious positions. He was president of the British Society for Gasteroenterology, hosting a meeting of the society in Dublin in 1967. A founder member of the Irish Society for Gasteroenterology, he was also a major figure in the European Pancreatic Club. He was elected FRCP (Edinburgh), FRCPI, and FRCP (London), and served as external examiner at TCD, Cambridge, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh. He was a council member of the Association of Physicians of Great Britain and Ireland and of the Nutrition Society. When the drugs advisory board was established in 1966 he was elected chairman and was reappointed by several governments until 1985.
A distinguished clinician and researcher, and a highly respected member of the faculty of medicine at UCD, FitzGerald was an excellent teacher, energetic and forthright; as a colleague and mentor he was much loved, and he maintained friendships with many former students and protégés. He had a stately air about him that could make him appear austere and aloof, but this manner belied a witty and charming disposition. He was modest about his achievements and dutiful towards his profession. Widely read, he was erudite and good company at social gatherings (though his lack of coordination as a dancer was sometimes remarked upon). When the hospital where he had worked for most of his professional life celebrated its sesquicentenary in 1984, he chaired the committee in charge of the celebrations.
FitzGerald married Cliodna Maiben, youngest daughter of Joseph Maiben of Leeson Park, Dublin, in August 1944. They had six children, Alexis, Barbara, Cliodna, Nesta, Oliver, and Ann. Alexis became a Fine Gael TD and senator and served for a term as lord mayor of Dublin. Oliver FitzGerald died 1 December 1987 after a long illness, shortly before his seventy-seventh birthday.
His brother Patrick Alexis Martin FitzGerald (1911–78), surgeon, was born 24 December 1911, a year and a day after Oliver. He, too, attended Clongowes Wood College, where he was an outstanding student and gained first place in Ireland in the leaving certificate for English. He entered UCD in 1929 and qualified in medicine, obtaining first place at nearly every examination, including his finals (1935). With his brother, he spent much of his academic career at UCD, the two shadowing each other's achievements; Patrick qualified MB, B.Ch., BAO (1936), and M.Sc. (1937), proceeding MD and M.Ch. (1940). He spent two years (1936–8) on a travelling scholarship, studying in England (at the research laboratories of the Royal College of Surgeons) and America (at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore), before taking up an appointment as assistant surgeon at Jervis Street Hospital (1940).
Throughout his long career FitzGerald was associated with St Vincent's Hospital, first as assistant surgeon (1940–52), and later as surgeon (1952–78), following in the footsteps of John McArdle (qv) and Harry Meade (qv). He was appointed associate professor of surgery at UCD in 1954 and professor in 1958, a position he held until his retirement in 1976. In the early 1970s he articulated the misgivings of his colleagues at UCD about the proposed merger of the medical faculty with that of TCD, eloquently rejecting the rationale for the move put forward by the Higher Education Authority. As chairman of a consultative committee on reforms in hospital practice, he oversaw the production of their report, known as the ‘FitzGerald report’, the findings of which were never implemented. He was an able and pioneering surgeon and did much to develop the speciality of cardiovascular surgery in Ireland. He was, like his brother, president of several prestigious professional associations, including the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland (1966–7), and was made FRCSI. He married Helen Dorothy Nolan, eldest daughter of T. J. Nolan (qv), professor of chemistry at UCD, in September 1944. He died 12 April 1978 in Dublin after a long illness.