Bill Austin’s neighbor came to his front door one day about a decade ago after seeing a stream of cars arrive for various parties and gatherings.
Larry Fitzgerald Jr. wanted to know if he was missing out on all the fun.
“He came up smiling and said, ‘Hi, I’m your neighbor,’ ” said Austin, founder and CEO of Starkey Hearing Foundation. “We’ve been friends ever since.”
Fitzgerald is recognized as one of the best receivers in NFL history. Off the field, he’s a seasoned world traveler who also is involved with numerous philanthropic organizations.
In July, Fitzgerald joined Austin on a Starkey mission to provide hearing aids to people in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Over the years, Fitzgerald has participated in missions to India, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Malaysia, Philippines, Nepal and Uganda. Former President Bill Clinton asked Austin to arrange for Fitzgerald join their delegation on the Uganda trip.
In all, Fitzgerald has visited every continent and 96 countries on either missions or personal vacations.
“I’ve got to get the 100 mark,” he said.
He often travels alone with just his camera. He loves photography.
His father, Larry Sr., understandably worries about his son’s expeditions given acts of global terrorism. “He’s never let it stopped him from traveling,” Larry Sr. said.
Fitzgerald said his parents — his mother, Carol, died of breast cancer in 2003 — nurtured his love of travel and curiosity about other cultures.
They took vacations to different parts of the country. And once a week, his parents took Larry and younger brother Marcus to an ethnic restaurant in Minneapolis.
“That developed into a real appreciation for different places and cuisines,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s important when you have kids to immerse them in different activities.”
His parents also exposed him to the importance of serving others. Fitzgerald’s résumé of charitable work runs two pages long involving dozens of organizations and causes important to him.
Fitzgerald was a finalist for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2012.
“As a child, [community involvement] was part of our fabric,” he said.