2002-03-09 / Columnists

On The Beach… With Beverly Baxter

On The Beach…With Beverly Baxter

Well, the drums went bang and the cymbals clanged, and the horns they did blaze away! And with all the pomp and pageantry, The James Conway Sullivan Memorial Queens County Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee marched gallantly through our town. This year's parade was indeed unprecedented and certainly our largest ever. With the attack on the WTC where so many of our own, nearly two on ever block, were murdered in cold blood for simply going to work and being Americans; and where nearly two months to the day, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into the heart of the Belle Harbor community, where five of our neighbors lost their lives; and where again, in the exact spot from where our beloved parade steps off, its founder went home one evening to
go to sleep, but never woke up. And just when these tragic events have shattered our sense of normalcy, it is our glorious parade that has become a symbol of our strength and resolve; a scepter of our community's determination to prevail. And...how proudly it did hail!

Over the years, I've often heard many people from different ethnic backgrounds ask, "Why do the Irish march in such fierce celebration on St. Patrick's Day?" Because wherever you go throughout the world, from tiny little seaside hamlets to big cities, you will find the Irish marching. Over the years, and through my friendship with Jimmy, I came to the understanding that for hundreds of years the Irish were victims of the most horrendous forms of oppression. Penal Code Laws and the British occupation denied the Irish of the most basic of human rights. For many years, and even today in occupied Northern Ireland, the Irish are not allowed to march and rejoice in celebration of who they are. In fact, Irish culture, history, and even the race itself was nearly obliterated, as the Irish were not allowed any form of expression of their history or culture. They were persecuted for speaking in their own Gaelic language. Children were taught in secrecy behind "hedgerow schools". They were not allowed to own their own land, and bounties were set upon the heads of Catholic Priests. "Marching became an emphatic statement of our pride in our faith, culture, and heritage.

The Irish have accomplished Herculean things. With their steely verve, they have built this, along with many other countries around the globe.

Jimmy had a missionary spirit about his culture. He cherished his heritage and never tired of espousing its glories. He often said that we are a people who triumph over adversity. Each of our honorees exemplifies this steely verve. They've all made their distinguished mark in endeavors in which the Irish are so noted to excel.

They've gone from an era where "No
Irish need apply" to the heights of Labor, Journalism, Law, Politics, Education, Uniformed Service, ...and they wear their honors well.

This year's parade certainly lived up to its distinction as the second largest parade in New York State. It began with a passionate Mass for Peace and Justice in Northern Ireland said by Monsignor Geraghty who has shouldered much of our pain as we reel and somehow recover from all that we have endured. He has been a beacon of spiritual inspiration for this entire community. He infused the mass with humor and compassion. There was a five-minute standing ovation for our FDNY, NYPD, and EMT and a moment of silence for all whom we lost. Sister Mary Beatta, who was a personal friend of Jimmy's, sang in memory of him, "Lady of Knock", his favorite song of hers.

Many said it was her most moving rendition. The Mayor of Drogedha, Co. Louth, Ireland, who traveled to our parade accompanied by his county's Fire Department, also spoke at the mass. He tearfully recalled how all of Ireland was devastated by the attack on the WTC, that businesses closed down that day, and how the Irish people cried in the streets. He later presented, at the Awards Ceremony, his Coat of Arms to Parade Chairman Mike Benn, Battalion Chief Tom Murphy, FF Tom Touhey, and 100 Precinct Captain Amato.

At the invitation-only breakfast hosted by the parade committee for our honorees, dignitaries and invited guests, Monsignor Geraghty blessed our new parade banner in memory of Jimmy; and Danny Sullivan, on behalf of his family, made the official dedication of The James Conway Sullivan Queens County Saint Patrick's Day Parade Committee. There were many, including Jimmy's uncle Joe Burns and Carl Alviado, who spoke in awe of Jimmy's determination, despite much opposition, for a parade in Rockaway; and how from humble beginnings, it kept growing and his dream has been realized today. Dr. Geraldine M. Chapey presented Congressman Tom Manton with the James Conway Sullivan Irishman of the Year Award for his dedication to the Irish community.

We welcomed Mayor Michael Bloomberg who did attend and march with us. I had a chance to speak with him and found him to be so unassuming and down to earth. He is not at all as terse as he often seems on television. Perhaps he was a little overwhelmed by our much-spirited Failte! He spoke generously to the throng of reporters and parade participants. Stating how this community has suffered so much, he spoke movingly about how " we have lost enormous numbers of firefighters and police officers of 9/11 to this community. We had a terrible air tragedy of American (Flight) 587 here. But this community still shoulders on, and that's what New York is all about--the best is yet to come." He introduced himself as Mayor O'Bloomberg and Senator O'Schumer; and with a hearty "Erin Go Bragh", the ribbon was cut and the parade began.

If politics and parades go together like the fife and drum, then Senator Hillary Clinton certainly missed the beat. Although her Press Secretary had confirmed that she would attend, The Wave received a call from her office inviting Editors of community newspapers to attend a luncheon she was hosting at Antun's. She may have opted to go to Antun's, but this community newspaper stayed to march in and cover our parade. We hope she finds it in her schedule to join us next year.

Senator Schumer, whom I have met and spoke with on numerous occasions as he always attends our parades and fundraisers, noticed I was wearing a purple armband. He looked more closely at the embroidery, which read "In memory of James Conway Sullivan" and lowered his head in profound acknowledgement of Jimmy's passing. He remarked how Jimmy was a great leader whom he very much admired and then he asked if he could have an arm band to wear which he did throughout the entire parade. He went over to the Sullivan car and offered his condolences to Mrs. Sullivan. It meant a lot to them as it did to me.

For me personally the day, the parade, was all about and because of him. It was so comforting to see the banner, which led the parade, receive such a rousing applause all along the parade route as we marched through the heart of Irishtown and to hear people chanting Jimmy's name. He neither sought the accolades nor the glitterati. It was never about his shot of limelight. I know he would have been so proud of this parade and its tribute to all our uniformed officers. He knew so well how Labor, the FDNY, the PDNY, and EMS were all fields that the Irish sought to work in long ago. And he was proud to be among you.

The parade ended at Saint Rose where Father Peter Gillen welcomed everyone at the door. The reception was meticulously organized by Christine Benn and Peggy Neville and what a fine job they did! Trophies were awarded to the following: Best Pipe Band was the FDNY, Best Marching Unit was Local 608, Best Band was Beach Channel High School, Best Youth Group was P.S. 225,

Best Catholic Group was St. Rose, Best Fire volunteers were the Broad Channel Volunteer Fire Department who won in this category for the third straight year!, and the James Conway Sullivan Spirit Award went to St. Rose as these children really demonstrated their enthusiasm for the occasion. They were "over the top" and absolutely wonderful! FF Tom Touhey, who is our parade Treasurer,
presented the award and spoke of his life long friendship with Jimmy and how it was his hope that Jimmy would be remembered through this award. It is so important that the children become involved in the parade and that they learn about their heritage. Young Patrick Benn and John Brennan Jr. carried the American and Tri-color flags. Chairman Mike Benn was presented with a marble plaque in the shape of Co. Limerick from Peggy Neville for all his hard work on behalf of the parade. Congratulations to Chairman Benn and the entire parade committee. On behalf of the parade committee, I must thank the Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 22 for the flowers they donate each year for our mass. The Green White and Gold Sprays were designed so beautifully by Dennis from Dragon's Den Florist. Thank you Dennis for always adding
your special talents to our day. To Steve and Kenny Good who are always so generous as they donate the entire breakfast to the parade committee. To Felicia Edwards, Art Director of The Wave, who worked so feverishly and creatively to ensure the most beautiful layout in the Parade Supplement Section. And lastly, to all of the individuals and businesses who continue to support our parade. Thank you!

***To James Conway Sullivan, may you rest in peace and rest assured that your legacy will endure.

***For all the injustices there are in Northern Ireland and throughout the
world, the revenge will be the laughter of our children.

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