John Fogarty: A chat with the Parade Committee’s General Chairman

THE MAN BEHIND THE MAGIC

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You work all year toward a goal.  Hours of project time, organizing, and crossing every “t” and dotting every “i.”   Heading up any large event is a challenge enough, but for John Fogarty, General Chairman of the Parade Committee, the fruits of his efforts—as well as hundreds of other parade committee members—will soon culminate in a homecoming welcome to the celebration of St. Patrick.

“It really is a crazy experience,” Fogarty shared in a rare down moment before the St. Patrick’s Day festivities commence.  “It’s all about working on something year-round with a bunch of other gentlemen that are on the executive committee with you, volunteering, putting in your time, energy, and effort into it.  We haven’t had this celebration for two years, so it’s the party of coming back… a return.”

2022 is a return.

A return to tradition.   A return to heritage.  A return to normalcy.

“It’s exciting [around St. Patrick’s Day] and you can feel the energy from everyone you talk to.  Folks are excited to have this parade and celebration back,” he noted.  “It’s a special part of Savannah.  To see all these events …it’s much more than just the parade that we put on and organize.   When you have everything coordinated and you get to check things off the list as they happen, that’s always a good feeling in years past.  However, seeing the crowds returning to Savannah as we’re coming out of COVID… it’s huge.”

“You can tell people want to be out with others and come back to true community.  They want to stand next to their neighbors, friends, and family and be a part of something special. It’s super exciting,” Fogarty said.

Fogarty hasn’t slept much leading up to the St. Patrick’s Day activities.  “I was at an event the other day with the chaplain and I said to him, ‘Father Bryant, I think [my wife] Lisa thinks I’m cheating on her, but it’s the Grand Marshall I’m with all the time,” he said, laughing.  “We put a lot of energy into taking care of him.  He’s elected by the parade committee of about 800 people.  It’s a huge honor to be elected and so incredibly special.  It’s great to help out and stand back to make sure everything works out properly.”

Much like the wizard behind the curtain pulling the strings, Fogarty gets to enjoy things from the meeting planning perspective—when things work and even when they don’t—he said he can still see that people are enjoying themselves and having a good time.

Many folks might not know the inner workings of the parade committee and how the Grand Marshal is chosen.   “The election process is standard in that there are obviously qualifications to being nominated.   Nominations are a week before the election.  There’s a lot of politicking—you know, the Irish and politics go hand and hand.  The voters, too, have to meet certain qualifications to vote.  It’s a secret ballot and then the winner is announced.  The person is elected to be the representative and face of our community and our Irish celebration.  It’s a real honor and always someone who’s done a lot for the community and someone people respect.”

One thing locals might wonder is how does the parade gets cleaned up so quickly each year?  Fogarty gives all the credit to the amazing working relationship between the parade committee, the city, and the police personnel.

“The parade committee members who walk at the end of the parade are our adjutants, wearing the white jackets.  There are about 125-ish gentlemen who get up at 5 a.m., eat breakfast, and then go set up the parade of 300+ units,” Fogarty said, praising these volunteers.  “They’re running around getting parade participants ready and then they make sure things run smoothly.  These guys are giving up their day with their families to do this.   They’re incredibly hard-working and dedicated.”

Then, you have the city.

“The street sweepers come through immediately after and they’ll be in the squares as quickly as things begin to break down,” the chairman said.  “You wake up on the 18th and might not even know there was a parade the previous day.  The city workers do a wonderful job of working with us and making sure the tourist who came for more than just the parade can enjoy the city for all it is worth.”

Continuing, he said, “We work closely with the city year-round to plan with the police and the sheriff’s department who help give our units escorts to and from the beginning to the end, or the security and emergency units stationed throughout the parade, ready to help when needed—hopefully not, but they’re there.  It’s a culmination of bringing a ton of people together who want to see a successful event.  Our hats are off to the city workers.”

And, at the end of the day, Fogarty said his work isn’t done.

“The last band will stop at the reviewing stand and they’ll play Amazing Grace.  It’s a pretty somber moment when we know we’ve reached the end.   Hopefully, you’ve had a successful parade and the Grand Marshal will shake your hand.  I’ll take my staff—about 20 guys—and we’ll walk up to the fourth floor of the Knights of Columbus to review everything that just happened.”

Yes, before the sweepers have finished cleaning up, the Parade Committee is already strategizing for next year.  “We start working on the next parade immediately while it’s fresh on our minds.   We talk about what was good, what was bad, what units we had trouble with, anyone who broke the rules, etc.  We review those sorts of things so we can improve every year.  Once we’re done with that, we might have a litttttttttle bit of whiskey to celebrate.”

And then… “We go be with our families,” he said happily.

John Fogarty is a fourth generation Savannahian, tracing the origin of his family to Tipperary in Ireland.   “My great-grandfather brought us to Savannah from Boston.  He was a Merchant Marine and Savannah was on his route.  He obviously loved it since he brought his whole family down from Boston and we’ve been here ever since.”

Asked what something special Fogarty is looking forward to, he quickly said there are two particular things he wanted to point out:

  • There will be a statue of St. Patrick in the front of the parade.  This statue is usually housed in the cathedral.  They gave permission for the statue to be in the parade this year like it used to be long ago.  The statue is over 100 years old.
  • A group of local Ukrainians is looking forward to being in the parade.  We hope people will cheer them on and support them.  Show them we care.
  • Some of our military who are usually in the parade have been deployed.  We want everyone to keep them in their thoughts and prayers.

Interestingly though, Fogarty said, “It’s not what’s going to be in the parade so much, but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s outside the curbs.  The people and the families, you know, coming together again, hugging again, seeing cousins and relatives you may not have seen in years.  The smiles on people’s faces show we’re getting back to some normalcy.”

The parade is part of Savannah’s identity, Fogarty feels.  “We’re gracious to be a part of that.”

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