James G. O’Connor, a native New Yorker with Irish roots in County Cork, will lead the 242nd consecutive parade on Fifth Avenue on Monday, March 17.
The selection of O’Connor as grand marshal was announced by the parade committee at a press conference Thursday at the Beekman Tower Hotel in Manhattan.
O’Connor, who is 59, will receive his grand marshal’s sash from outgoing grand marshal Cardinal Edward Egan at an installation ceremony next month.
O’Connor, Ford’s group vice president for North America Marketing, Sales and Service, said he was honored to be made grand marshal and that he fully recognized the significance of his role.
“Imagine being born in New York and then following the cardinal as grand marshal,” O’Connor said moments after his name was announced last Friday by parade chairman John Dunleavy.
O’Connor said that he couldn’t think of a better start to his day on March 17 than being at Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
“My parents were married in the cathedral and I was baptized there,” he said. “It will be a proud occasion. I will do my best to represent our pride in our heritage, our accomplishments, my values, my family’s values and the parade’s values as we come together on March 17.”
O’Connor’s New York roots are in Hell’s Kitchen going back six generations. His father served in a top post in the administration of Mayor Robert Wagner.
O’Connor has been with Ford since 1964, the time, as he pointed out, that the company introduced the legendary Mustang car.
He served in a number of executive positions with the company in both Canada and the U.S. before being appointed to his present job in May of this year. Ford is a major sponsor of the New York parade.
O’Connor is a graduate of Villanova University, where he received an economics degree. He sits on several boards and is active in a number of charities, including the United Way. Earlier this year he was conferred with an honorary doctorate by Northwood University.
Speaking at the press conference, the parade’s executive secretary, Jim Barker, said that the 242nd parade would serve to remind people of the enormous significance and importance of the annual event. It would be a salute, he said, to the great contribution of the Irish diaspora to New York and the United States.
Chairman Dunleavy said that no decision had yet been made as to what the 2003 parade would be dedicated. Last year’s parade was dedicated to the fallen of 9/11 and was notable for the commemorative two minutes of silence that descended over the parade as it proceeded up Fifth Avenue.