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Meet Bill Desmond, Chief Marshal of the St. Patrick's Day parade

Posted by Patrick Rosso  February 21, 2012 11:14 AM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

Chief Marshal Bill Desmond and Chair of the Parade Committee Ed Flynn.

South Boston’s annual St. Patrick’s Day/Evacuation Day parade is just around the corner and this year’s Chief Marshal of the parade, Bill Desmond, is excited even though it will be his 59th parade.

A native of South Boston, he grew up on East Fourth Street, Desmond has seen a lot in his 71-years, but the annual parade is high on his list of favorites. Maybe it is the floats or just the community coming together, but Desmond said he is honored to serve as the Chief Marshal and to work to make this year’s parade the best.

“I couldn’t imagine a time without a parade. It’s something to look forward to,” said Desmond. “It’s a joyful thing; I had facial muscles that were sore after smiling the length of the route.”

While the parade itself is fun to watch, Desmond a graduate of South Boston’s Gate of Heaven High, stressed the importance of the day and the history behind it.

“As you become older you begin to appreciate why these sort of things happen,” said Desmond. “It’s about the community coming together to remember its history. It's a celebration and a commemoration.”

The parade began in 1902 and was city funded until 1947. When funding by the city was pulled the Allied War Veteran Council, which Desmond is a member of, picked up the torch and began running the parade.

But even recent history doesn’t cover the full spectrum of the parade. The Evacuation Day aspect celebrates one of the United States’ first victories against the British during the Revolutionary War. Pushing the “Red Coats” out of Boston and holding the high ground at Dorchester Heights was a significant moment for the American soldiers and for the neighborhood, something that is not lost on Desmond.

“It serves you well to know where it is you are from and what made you what you are,” said Desmond. "It's about people staying in touch with this their history."

Although hours could be spent talking about the war and the significance of the battle in the Boston Harbor, service is also a major motivator for Desmond and the parade committee.

A U.S. Navy veteran and advocate for veterans, Desmond has spent a good amount of time working with veterans across the commonwealth to make sure they are able to get the services they need.

Now a volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans, Desmond for the past six-years has been helping veterans navigate the at times complicated system of benefits and services.

“The veterans of South Boston are proud of their service and that’s why Bill was selected,” said Ed Flynn, chair of the parade committee. “It’s in recognition of service past.”

Service aside it’s also helpful to have somebody who knows every square inch of South Boston be the Marshal of the parade. From watching it as a young boy to driving the Chief Marshal’s car in last year’s parade, Desmond is a jack of all trades when it comes to South Boston and said he is looking forward to leading the parade this year, although with his own touch of style.

Traditionally the Chief Marshal rides in the back of a car waving to the crowds of families and onlookers but Desmond doesn’t think that’s the right fit for him.

“I’ll be walking the entire route this year,” said Desmond. “I owe it to the parade.”

Email Patrick Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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