Mar 14, 2007 Staff Writer Uncategorized
Twenty-five years ago, Nancy Duffy approached her good friend, Sheila Shattuck, and asked, “Do you want to start a parade?” Shattuck was game but didn’t realize at the time exactly what she was getting herself into.
“I thought it would be just a little march around Coleman’s Pub or something, but she engaged the whole community,” Shattuck recalled. “It was like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, you know, ‘Let’s put on a show!’ But it just took off, partly because she was such a genius at organizing things.”
Duffy, who worked as a television reporter here for four decades, died on Dec. 22 after a long struggle with heart disease. She had worked at WSYR-TV Channel 9 since 1977 and previously at WTVH-TV Channel 5 where she had become Syracuse’s first female TV reporter.
Nancy Duffy Lane
On Tuesday March 13, Mayor Matt Driscoll renamed South Salina Street “Nancy Duffy Lane” for the week that will culminate in the annual Saturday-afternoon parade which draws tens of thousands of people downtown.
“That’s great that they’ve renamed Salina Street for her,” Shattuck said. “She deserves the attention. She was a great human being who never thought of herself.”
Janet Higgins agrees. The parade committee president for the past two years, Higgins also lent Duffy a helping hand during the first parade back in 1983.
“She never wanted any of the glory to shine on her,” Higgins said. “She wanted to point to others. Nancy was very modest. No one will ever know the trailblazing things she did here. She was incredible.”
Irish Trailblazers is the theme of this year’s parade.
The 25th annual march down Salina Street will spotlight some 150 units including the Ferko String Band a prize-winning group of gaily-bedecked, banjo-playing Philadelphia Mummers. Among parade newcomers will be the Twisted Axles Four-Wheel Drive group presented by Tony Scarlata.
“Those are fun cars with giant wheels,” Higgins said. “They’ll be an exciting addition to our lineup.”
While green garments will be worn by most folks, a couple parade participants come by their emerald hues naturally: The Geico gecko and the Limp Lizard from the Limp Lizard Lounge Grill in Westvale.
The Irish Trailblazers’ theme may be best symbolized by the CNY Labor Federation, AFL-CIO float depicting Tipperary Hill stone-throwers who convinced the powers-that-be to install a green-over-red traffic light in the city’s Irish neighborhood.
“Our float has an actual traffic light with the green light on top,” said Mark Spadafore, field coordinator for the local labor federation. “We’ll have three kids on the float dressed up in 1930s’ attire, and they’ll portray the stone-throwers, just like the ones on the monument now up on Tipp Hill.”
“The stone-throwers certainly were trailblazers,” Higgins said. “So it works out perfectly.” The national champion Syracuse Brigadiers Drum and Bugle Corps will bring up the parade’s rear.
“We’re so lucky to have the Brigadiers back,” Higgins said. “They’re the perfect way to end the parade on TV although some units do actually come after them. TV likes to sign off with the band, but other units are still coming down the street to entertain the people along the parade route.”
Grand Marshall Neil Murphy
WSYR-TV 9 will telecast Saturday’s parade as it has for the past quarter-century, although it will seem odd not to have Nancy Duffy commenting and congratulating from the reviewing stand. Shattuck, who was Duffy’s original parade vice-president, will attend Friday evening’s dinner honoring 2007 Grand Marshall Neil Murphy.
“We’re honored to have another true trailblazer as parade grand marshal this year, Cornelius B. Murphy Jr.,” Higgins said. “Neil is a devoted husband, father and an outstanding scientist. As president of SUNY-ESF, he is truly paving the way for our future.”
Murphy is a former top executive with O’Brien & Gere Companies. The 2007 Grand Marshall Dinner honoring Neil Murphy will be served at 6 p.m. Friday March 16, at the OnCenter, at the corner of South State and Harrison streets, downtown. Tickets cost $40 per person; 475-2863. At the OnCenter, Shattuck will present Joanne Neff’s original oil painting of the 2007 Irish Trailblazers parade poster to Nancy’s son, Peter Duffy.
“He was with her up to the end,” Shattuck said. “Peter’s a wonderful son as is her other son, Michael. They’re both a little like her, humble with a marvelous sense of humor. She was a great adventuress.”
The St. Patrick’s Day Parade’s Gael of the Year 2007 is former Hotel Syracuse hospitality manager John Farrell. He’s the man who established the hotel’s St. Patrick’s Day “hooleys,” huge public parties which predated the Syracuse St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Although the landmark hotel at 500 S. Warren St. has been closed since May 2004, it will open its doors to parade-goers this Saturday March 17 from noon to 6 p.m. Admission will cost $10, and music will be performed by The Flyin’ Column and Seanache. Irish dancers will kick up their heels throughout the afternoon, and traditional Irish food will be available.
Sean James Farrell was born in County Longford, Ireland. At 16, he began his career in the food-and-beverage industry in County Wicklow. In 1955, after six years at sea with the British Merchant Services, he relocated to New York City. During his trip from Ireland to Manhattan, John met his wife-to-be, Nancy. The couple married in 1958, settled in Queens and had four children. During his long, illustrious career in the hospitality business, Farrell worked at the Four Seasons, Tavern on the Green, and Tower Suite.
In 1976, former Hotel Syracuse owner Joseph Murphy convinced Farrell to move to Syracuse where, as part of his work at the hotel, he pioneered the Salt City’s grand St. Patrick’s Day traditions by staging hooleys in the hotel’s ballrooms and Persian Terrace. Guitarist Bill Delaney’s Flyin’ Column played at the hotel’s inaugural Irish Hooley on March 17, 1977, and subsequent celebrations continued to draw thousands of revelers every March for many years.
“As a result of the spirited efforts of Nancy Duffy, John, and many organizations including the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the first St. Patrick’s Parade was held in March 1983,” recalled Janet Higgins, the parade president. “Our 2007 Gael has not only been involved in many community events but, because of his tireless efforts for Project Children, in 1992 he was awarded the Irish Humanitarian Award.”