It has been said that it is easier to be elected to Congress than to be elected the General Chairman of Savannah's St. Patrick's Day Parade committee.
One of the parade committee members in describing the ascension to becoming parade chairman reminded me that there is politics, then there is Irish politics.
Ashley Norris, a Georgia Southern University (GS) alumnus and Vice President of Statesboro headquartered Core Credit Union, was elected the General Chairman in May in what he describes as one of the greatest honors of his life.
Nearly 900 members make up the Parade Committee
It is indeed a tremendous honor and huge responsibility to lead the Savannah St. Patrick's Day Parade which is one of the largest and most recognized St. Patrick's Day Parades in the world. Putting on a parade of this magnitude is no small feat. It takes the nearly 900 members of the parade committee an entire year to plan and execute the over 300 unit parade that shuts down the historic district of the city for most of the day.
In addition to leading the parade, the parade Chairman and Grand Marshall, George Schwarz III, are in high demand to make appearances and attend countless events leading up to and during the St. Patrick's Day "season". A few of the events include:
- The greening of the fountain at Forsyth Park
- the Celtic Cross Mass and ceremony at the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
- Celtic Cross Ceremony continued at Celtic Cross Monument in Emmet Park
- Sergeant Jasper Green ceremony at Madison Square
The parade is steeped in tradition in which the Irish Catholic community in Savannah have and continue to celebrate the feast of St. Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland since 1824 or 199 years. Ashley's family found their way to Savannah from Ireland through Patrick Crawford in 1842. His Irish lineage traces back through the Crawford and Burke families.
He became a member of the parade committee 19 years ago at the age of 21. He has served on the Executive Committee for the past 13 years. Ashley served as Secretary for two years, Treasurer for two years and as Vice Chairman for John Fogarty for two years.
"Growing up in Savannah, we would get together for traditional holidays, but we might not see our entire family on those special days," said Ashley Norris. "But on March 17th each year, I knew that I would see my entire family and because of this St. Patrick's Day has always held a special place in my heart."
Ashley pointed out that without the support of his family, including his wife Trisha and daughter Aleena, there is no way he could have served the committee in any role over the years and even more so as chairman.
Behind the scenes look
Ashley invited members of the Grice Connect team to tag along with him over the St. Patrick's Day weekend and get a behind the scenes look at what it takes to put on the parade and serve as Chairman.
The dedication and commitment of the hundreds of the volunteers who make up the parade committee is impressive. The demands are high and expectations are even higher, but they do it to honor their families, their Irish heritage and the City of Savannah which they all love so dearly. Most of us identify with St. Patrick's Day in Savannah as one continuous party that lasts for days and draws hundreds of thousands to the City.
Don't get me wrong, the parade committee understands the importance of having a great time and can hang with the most seasoned partiers. However their foundation of Faith is powerfully evident as they celebrate St. Patrick, who spread Christianity across Ireland.
We caught up with Ashley at the Executive Committee reception on the eve of St. Patrick's Day. It is one of many dinners and receptions he is required to make appearances at. This reception is a special time where the Chairman recognizes the Executive Committee and presents a special gift to each member. Their families attend as does the Grand Marshall and a host of dignitaries.
Ashley begins his St. Patrick's Day at 5:00 AM where he attends his first breakfast. He will attend at least five total before traveling to the Basilica Cathedral of St. John the Baptist for Mass which begins at 8:00 AM. He then heads over to the main assembly area for the parade in Forsyth Park to prepare to walk the three mile parade route with his family.
He will end the walk at the dignitary reviewing stand where he will greet and thank the participants of the parade for the next few hours. He then attended a luncheon, reception and a debrief meeting to help them prepare for the next year's parade, which begins almost immediately.
We were exhausted by simply watching him work through his role as Chairman. It is wonderful to see how this parade pulls together this City in such a remarkable way, if for just a few hours. On March 17th everyone is Irish and celebrates their Irish heritage either real or imagined.
It was also nice to see so many organizations and individuals from Statesboro participating in the Parade and events surrounding it. The dignitary review stand was provided by Statesboro's Brickhouse Live. Of course GS President Kyle Marrero and his wife Jane along with Freedom and GUS joined students in the parade. Jane's identical twin sister did create a little confusion for us. Even completely sober, we were seeing double!
The Bulloch County Sheriffs' Department Motorcycle Escort team led by Bobby Durden participated in the parade. Father Jason Adams of Statesboro's St. Matthews Catholic Church seemed to be everywhere this weekend. He had a large role in the St. Patrick's Day festivities including the morning Mass.
Grice Connect congratulates Ashley Norris for his leadership of the St. Patrick's Day Parade and in his role of helping grow CORE Credit Unions footprint in Savannah with the acquisition of Savannah Federal Credit Union and Memorial Health Employees Credit Union. His success is inspiring and encouraging to so many.