You may want to stake out your seating now for the 2018 Morris County St. Patrick’s Parade in Morristown.
With John J. Murphy as Grand Marshal, South Street is sure to be lined many rows deep with well wishers.
For starters, he has 80 first-cousins here and in Ireland. You know where they’re going to be on March 10.
And few Grand Marshals have been more active in Greater Morristown than Murphy, a familiar face in Morris County politics, youth sports and Morris Township’s volunteer fire department.
“Life is about the people you meet, and I’ve been blessed to meet a lot of great people,” said Murphy, 58.
Some he met as a boy in Morristown’s “Little Dublin,” or as quarterback of the Morristown High School football team, or as a javelin-thrower at Gettysburg College.
Others crossed his path when he served as Township mayor or county freeholder, or during his 2005 GOP bid for governor.
He’s made friends in Appalachia on Habitat for Humanity missions, and on local ball fields coaching boys football and baseball and girls soccer.
Grand Marshals hold a special place in his heart; Murphy got choked up this week acknowledging his predecessors.
“It’s just a great group of people. To be part of that list is a wonderful honor,” said the longtime member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.
HIS VERY OWN GREEN MACHINE
When trustees of the state’s largest St. Patrick’s parade called him from the Dublin Pub the other night to inform him of his unanimous selection, Murphy thought it was a prank.
“He was in shock,” said Friendly Sons President Ryan Dawson, part of the contingent that tracked down Murphy later to assure him it was for real.
“What hasn’t he done?” Dawson said. “He’s made for the position…I feel like the parade has already started.”
Parade President Jeff Rawding placed the call.
“We couldn’t have picked a better man,” said Rawding, a past Grand Marshal and Murphy’s friend for nearly four decades. “His selflessness, volunteerism and general Irish nice-guy demeanor epitomizes what being a Grand Marshal should be all about.”
And Murphy can boast one thing no other Grand Marshal can claim: His very own green fire truck.
“It’s a hoot,” he said. The emerald 1965 Mac truck served firefighters in Washington’s Crossing PA before Murphy acquired it a couple of years ago.
The vehicle appeared in last year’s St. Patrick’s parade, and was the centerpiece of a tailgate party at MetLife Stadium for a game between Syracuse and Notre Dame, the school of his daughter Caitlin.
‘THE BEST NEIGHBORHOOD IN THE STATE’
That fire engine is garaged just a few blocks from “Little Dublin,” a Morristown neighborhood that was home for generations of Irish immigrants.
It’s where Murphy’s father, who hails from County Kerry, and his mother, from County Clare, started their family. Seven children later, their little row house felt a bit cramped. They moved to the Township when Murphy, the eldest, was 11.
He still remembers Little Dublin as “the best neighborhood in the state,” a place full of surrogate grandparents, where neighbors “loved you like your own family.”
It all makes the Grand Marshal gig especially meaningful for Murphy, a partner and financial advisor in the Private Advisor Group, co-founded by another Grand Marshal with deep Irish roots, John Hyland.
“When you think about your mom and dad coming from Ireland, your mom the oldest of 11, your dad with $100 in his pocket, and they raised seven kids, and we all went to school and got an education… to be selected as Grand Marshal of arguably one of the greatest parades in the state–it’s beyond words. It’s a very emotional thing,” Murphy said.
Murphy’s wife Jennifer shed her own tears of joy at the news.
With their children, Caitlin, 20; Megan, 18, who attends Murphy’s alma mater, Gettysburg College; Jack, 14, a student at the Delbarton School; and Emily, 8, they are excited about the whirlwind of promotional events that precede the parade, Murphy said.
It’s another high-profile role for Murphy, whose 15-year stint as a freeholder included a push to acquire more than 300 acres of surplus land at Greystone Park State Psychiatric Hospital for a county park.
Since leaving the freeholders in 2012, he has been appointed to the county Board of Elections. He said he misses the people, but not the politics, of the campaign trail. “It just seems the parties are so divided, the issues are so divisive. People are so upset one way or another,” Murphy said.
There is no such animus between the Friendly Sons and the Irish American Association of North West Jersey, who take promotion of their alcohol-free, family friendly parade very seriously.
Their fundraising covers parade costs–no tax dollars, organizers say–and has generated more than $350,000 for charity since the event began in Wharton in 1979.
In 1991 the parade moved to Morristown, where the United States held its first official St. Patrick’s Day celebration in 1780. It was Gen. George Washington’s thank you to his Irish soldiers.
While curbside seating may be scarce next year, one choice vantage point is available: Behind the wheel of Murphy’s minty fire truck. He won’t be driving.
“I want to walk the parade route,” he said.