Longtime process control and automation expert Bridget Ann Fitzpatrick, 57, of Katy, Texas, died suddenly on May 4 at Hobby airport in Houston after reportedly suffering an asthma attack, and falling and hitting her head. She was traveling to deliver a presentation in Savannah, Ga. EMTs at the scene and emergency room were reportedly unable to revive her after her injury.
“The morning of the trip she posted on Facebook, ‘Feeling happy,’" says Byron Lemmond, Fitzpatrick’s longtime partner. “Bridget enjoyed being with people, cared about people, and looked forward to sharing her latest thoughts with her peers. Always the smartest person in the room, Bridget was also one of the most caring and kind. When you were with her, you were with her. She had a ‘wicked’ sense of humor and could find the funny in any situation. Her determination and brilliance produced impressive accomplishments while her kindness led to many life-long friends.”
Fitzpatrick was voted into Control’s Process Automation Hall of Fame by its members in 2021. She was named an ISA Fellow in 2016.
Fitzpatrick most recently served as global technical lead for process automation at Wood, following its acquisition of embedded contractor Mustang Engineering. She also worked with the Open Process Automation Forum (OPAF) on its Open Process Automation Standard (O-PAS), advocated for the IEC 61499 standard for open, interoperable distributed control systems (DCS), and was a longtime cornerstone of the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium and its efforts to improve human machine interfaces (HMI0, alarm management and human-factors engineering.
“Always at the back of her mind was a desire to solve big problems and ‘save the world,’ ” adds Lemmond. “Throughout her career, she sought out the most interesting and difficult problems she could find, while at the same time forging friendships with people all over the world. She cared about you and your story.”
Fitzpatrick was born on Dec. 27, 1964, in Portland, Maine, during an ice storm. She was the eighth child of Ada Fraser and James Fitzpatrick, and was salutatorian of the class of 1982 at South Portland High School. Fitzpatrick attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on a work/study scholarship, where she earned a B.S. degree in chemical engineering in 1987. She continued with graduate studies in chemical engineering at Michigan State, and later picked up an MBA in technology management from the University of Phoenix.
In 1989, Fitzpatrick joined Celanese Chemicals in Bishop, Texas, where she started as a process engineer. “She moved into process control engineering when the control engineers wouldn’t implement control schemes to her satisfaction,” explains Lemmond. “After completing her MBA, she moved into middle management at Celanese. In 2003, she began working for Mustang in Houston.”
Fitzpatrick generously used her people skills to share her technical expertise with a wider audience. For decades, she participated in setting industrial automation standards worldwide. Besides working with ISA, ASM and OPAF, she also contributed to other standards-setting organizations, including API and ANSI.
“Bridget’s life's work really was helping technical people understand the danger that poorly constructed HMIs posed to industry and offering remedies—sometimes simple and sometimes complex, but always clever workarounds—that would make a control system’s HMIs more user-friendly and safer to use,” adds Lemmond. “She kept abreast of all the latest technology, and anything she found useful would be incorporated into her future work. Her goal was always to help an operator easily find the most critical data and quickly respond to it with minimal effort on their part.”
Bridget is survived by Lemmond; her siblings Michael Fitzpatrick and his wife Jennifer, Martin Fitzpatrick and his fiancé Debbie Walton, Barbara St. Clair, Beth Horne, Melissa Skahan and her husband Patrick; and her nieces and nephews Paula Deas, Geoffrey Deas, Sean Fitzpatrick, Ashley Fitzpatrick, Sarah Fitzpatrick, Liz Mireles Quevedo, John Mireles, Meaghan Anderson, Mary Willis, Bridget Skahan, Will Horne, Ada Horne; and her great nieces and nephews Arianna, Molly, Maggie, Riddick, Ryder, Addilyn, Ruby, Ada, Mia, Patrick, Donovan, and Devin.
Memorial services will be private. Because of her deep love of the ocean and her home state of Maine, Fitzpatrick ashes will be scattered there. Donations in remembrance can be sent to the ISA’s scholarship fund, noting “in memory of Bridget Fitzpatrick,” or to the Cattery Cat Shelter in Corpus Christi, Texas.