Smyth was presented with the grand marshal’s sash at the ceremony held Monday evening at the New York Athletic Club in Manhattan.
“This is emotional, It’s a very long way from Knockbridge to New York,” Smyth told a cheering audience in what was a reference to his hometown in County Louth.
Smyth will lead the 247th consecutive parade up Fifth Avenue on March 17. He succeeds last year’s grand marshal, former Boston mayor Ray Flynn, who was prevented from attending the installation ceremony due to heave snow in the Boston area.
The ceremony itself was a standing room only affair attended by former grand marshals including the first ever woman to lead the parade, Dorothy Hayden Cudahy, the second woman grand marshal, Mary Holt Moore and the 2004 grand marshal, Tommy Gleason.
For once, the loudest applause of the evening was not given the wearer of the green, white and orange sash though Smyth – known to all in the room for his WNBC commentary on the parade in addition to his soccer expertise on ESPN – is a hugely popular figure in the New York Irish community.
That honor went to one of Grand Marshal Smyth’s aides, former congressman Mario Biaggi.
Biaggi, though confined to a wheelchair and just past his 90th birthday, smiled and waved as the room gave him two standing ovations.
The greatest compliments, however, were heaped on Smyth.
“Tommy Smyth is my friend. He is everyone’s friend because of the man he is,” Irish Consul General Niall Burgess said from the podium from where master of ceremonies, Dr. John Lahey, a former grand marshal himself, introduced the full lineup of aides and parade officials.
“The parade is the greatest public expression of the kind of people we are, open, fun-loving, generous. Tommy Smyth is open, fun-loving and generous and he is our representative this year,” Burgess said.
Parade committee chairman John Dunleavy cited the parade’s importance in terms of protecting and preserving faith, values and culture.
But he also reminded all present of a bottom line that helped ensure the parade’s continued presence on Fifth Avenue.
It was estimated, he said, that the parade contributed between $125m and $150m to the city’s economy in additional sales tax.
Smyth’s popularity will, as likely as not, add more than a few dollars more.
“This is the greatest and most historic parade on the planet. There’s no parade like New York’s,” said Smyth in an acceptance speech to the audience in general and his family members, including wife Treasa, sitting in the front row in particular.
Smyth, who told a story about mailing shamrock to relatives in New York during his boyhood years in Knockbridge, said that while he had been a spectator at the parade for over thirty years, and a television commentator on it in most recent times, none of this compared to being grand marshal.
Smyth paid tribute to parade organizers, his family and read out a poetic tribute to his clearly beloved corner of the Wee County.
But his eyes were most firmly set on St. Patrick’s Day and his date with history on the world’s most famous thoroughfare.
“On March 17th it will be my great pleasure to lead up the avenue,” he said.