Amid all the pomp and circumstance of Maplewood Township’s reorganization last month, one special friend was remembered: Gemma, a golden retriever who had become a fixture at Maplewood Town Hall over the past four years, tagging along to work each day with her owner Town Clerk Liz Fritzen.
Gemma went to her final rest on December 11, at age nine after a sudden decline. She has since been remembered in social media posts by former Mayor Dean Dafis, as well as the Springfield First Aid Squad, where Fritzen serves as president.
In an interview with Village Green, Fritzen explained Gemma’s universal appeal.
“She brought so much joy to staff and thousands of residents,” said Fritzen. “Special, special girl.”
“I had no idea how much she meant to people. Every single day someone comes in and says, ‘Where’s Gemma?’ I have to go through the whole thing.”
“She was so special at Town Hall during COVID,” explained Fritzen. “She stayed. She was with me every day almost four years. She was the township clerk’s dog, but she became so much more that that. She was so important to the employees, a bright spot during the pandemic.”
Fritzen adds that Gemma was also important to the members of the Township Committee, particularly the Mayor. “They loved her as much as the employees.”
In Springfield with the First Aid Squad, Fritzen says, “Gemma was the squad mascot.”
And Gemma was also a welcome presence at Inglemoor Rehabilitation and Care Center in Livingston, where Fritzen’s mother was receiving care. “Gemma went with me. The staff loved her and the patients loved her. They would put their hands on her head. She was like a therapy dog.”
“My mom passed away on July 29, then I lose Gemma on Dec. 11. It’s been rough,” said Fritzen. “Between work, the squad and Inglemoor, I’ve got a hole in my heart. A big chunk went with Gemma.”
Fritzen reports that Gemma was in good health for most of her 9-1/2 years and that her illness “came on fast. Gone in three weeks. She became anemic, and had trouble getting up. I took her for tests and they never found cancer but it was cancer somewhere. It was fast.”
“I had given her the greatest life possible. She loved people and she was around people. Her last day on this earth was at Maplewood Town Hall with all her friends. We went to the vet at 5:30 and had to call it,” said Fritzen.
“One thing that sticks with me, an employee said, “You know, Liz, she wasn’t just your dog. She was everybody’s dog.'”
“The tributes coming in have been crazy,” said Fritzen. “Everybody loved Gemma.”
“I was the luckiest person in that I could bring Gemma Fritzen to work, and I’m the luckiest person to have these special relationships in my almost 45 years here,” said Fritzen about Maplewood Town Hall.