Category: Archive

Grand experience

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

O’Connor says he is delighted and humbled by the honor, conferred on him late last year by the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.
Speaking from his office at the Ford Motor Company in Detroit, where he is vice president of North America Marketing and Sales, O’Connor said he was overcome by the honor.
“It’s not how many breaths you take in life, it’s the moments that take your breath away that matter,” he said, and acknowledged that leading the Fifth Avenue parade would be a momentous occasion.
O’Connor will don his morning suit and sash and lead the parade up its legendary Fifth Avenue route on its 242nd occasion.
The parade started in 1762 — coincidently the year O’Connor’s ancestors left Ireland for America — and has run every year since then, making it the oldest and largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in the world.
O’Connor said that leading the parade is a “wonderful, wonderful, wonderful honor.”
“I am humbled,” he said, “and will do my best to uphold the dignity of the parade.”
The grand marshal for 2003 was born in New York City and educated at Villanova University. His mother lives in New Jersey and his late father was a city commissioner in New York under Mayor Robert Wagner.
O’Connor, who’s 60, is married and his wife, Judith, and two daughters, Erin and Kathleen, will be proud to attend the parade.
At his installation in February, O’Connor drew laughter from the audience when, after having difficulty putting on his ceremonial sash, said, “Please don’t remember me as the person who took the longest time to put on his sash.”
On that occasion, O’Connor received his sash from last year’s grand marshal, Cardinal Edward Egan.
“He told me that he had replaced an O’Connor, so it was fitting that an O’Connor should replace him as Grand Marshal,” said O’Connor. Cardinal Egan was referring to his predecessor as the head of the New York Archdiocese, the late Cardinal John O’Connor, who led the parade in 1995.
Some had questioned the selection of O’Connor as grand marshal, because he has been relatively unknown in New York Irish circles. But the parade’s organizers have pointed to his longstanding connection with charitable organizations. O’Connor himself recalls watching the parade as a child and as a young man. He also has many relatives in the New York area with whom he is in close contact.
“I can remember when I was 2, 3, 4, whatever, watching the parade,” he said. “I never went to high school on St Patrick’s Day. The parade came first.”
The honor, he said, is a proud moment for him and his family.
O’Connor has already met his 13 aides at his installation. The aides march 15 feet behind the grand marshal and are selected each year as notable and honored Irish Americans.
O’Connor said he was fascinated by the highly choreographed parade and has already been fitted with the requisite morning suit attire — dark gray tails, vest and striped pants, top silk hat, gray gloves and, of course, his sash — worn by the grand marshal and his aides.
He said that it is tradition for small gifts to be exchanged between the grand marshal and his aides and this year, he was proud to give out ring-a-rosaries from St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Bridget’s crosses.
“I am a practicing Catholic,” O’Connor said, “and this is a celebration of St. Patrick and I look forwarding to attending the morning Mass in St Patrick’s. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Irish values are Christian values.”
O’Connor praised his family and parents for raising him with Catholic, Christian values.
“We are a very tight family,” he continued. Unfortunately, he said, his mother will probably not attend the parade due to frailty, but she will watch it on TV.
O’Connor said that with war clouds gathering, the St. Patrick’s Day parade allowed for the Irish to reflect on their history and heritage and to ponder on the values that have sustained them and sustain them today.
“Everyone believes in freedom, and it’s important to celebrate our Irish heritage,” he said.
Last year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade was the largest in the event’s history and was notable because it was the first parade after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
On that occasion, the parade paid tribute to those who perished with two minutes’ silence, during which every marcher and many bystanders paused and turned and faced south toward where the twin towers of the World Trade Center stood.
O’Connor remembers the moment with awe. “To stop the entire parade for the silence was just incredible,” he said.
At O’Connor’s installation, Cardinal Egan also recalled the moment, saying: “Few moments in my life were more emotional than when we turned around and looked down to Lower Manhattan. It was a magnificent and holy experience and I shall never forget it.”
This year, the parade organizers said the wanted the parade to be in honor of its grand marshals. O’Connor said that he was especially proud to be in the presence of so many people of standing within Irish America.
“My heart never left New York City or St. Patrick’s [Cathedral],” he said.
The St Patrick’s Day Parade events will start on Monday, March 17, with an 8 a.m. Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Once the 69th Regiment, the grand marshal’s escort, starts moving, the parade begins.

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