A heroin epidemic was in full swing in 1971 when Bernie Fitzgerald — fresh from Boston College — took a job in the probation department of Dorchester District Court. On day one, his boss handed him a file with the names of 160 offenders. His orientation program consisted of a guided tour of every dive bar between Uphams Corner in Dorchester and Dudley Square in Roxbury
Next week, Fitzgerald will retire after 41 years, almost 30 of them spent as chief probation officer of the Dorchester court. That was enough time to see the surrounding neighborhood tilt toward despair, right itself, and then run through the cycle again. He has worked with judges of every stripe, from legendary bullies of the bench like the late Paul King to current presiding judge Rosalind Miller, who is known to temper tough justice with empathy.