It was an easy choice this year for grand marshal of Savannah's St. Patrick's Day parade. And not only because the popular and ever-present Jimmy Ray ran unopposed for the honor.
"To be chosen by my peers in the Parade Committee and it's just a great feeling,'' said Ray. "I can't believe I'm here already, but I'm here. And I'm loving it.''
It was also because the third-generation Savannah Irishman, the son of a grand marshal, has been on a path to this position virtually every day, certainly every St. Patrick's Day, of his 62 years. That would be as a youngster following his father's trail, as legacy member of the Parade Committee and as the organization's membership chairman, vice chairman and chairman.
And for the last 12 years, as co-host of WTOC's coverage of the parade.
"I marched with my dad as a child, I marched with the catholic school, Cathedral Day School and I marched with Benedictine,'' said Ray. "Planning it and being in it all these years has been great and now I get to lead it.''
"This didn't start today,'' added Charlie Russo, one of Ray's Grand Marshal aides. "When we go on trips to Notre Dame or wherever, Jimmy is always talking St. Patrick's Day, always talking Savannah. If there's ever been anyone that came out of Savannah that was a good public relations guy for St. Patricks Day and Savannah it's Jimmy Ray.''
So when members of the Parade Committee showed up at Benedictine this morning, it was not for a vote, but a validation, to install a friend not choose between two of them in an election.
"Unanimous, and it doesn't come any better than that,'' said Russo, "when everybody loves you enough to just give it to you without any competition.''
"When nobody ran against me, I said, ‘I must be doing something right''' added Ray. "It was a great pleasure and it makes it so easy on everyone. There's no sad faces, somebody didn't lose. We're all in this together and we're all happy.''
Ray's brother Bill, also one of his aides, was among Savannah's happy Irishmen Sunday.
"I haven't felt this way since 1989, when my dad won,'' said Billy Ray. "It's wonderful. I'm so proud of my brother.''
It will be another proud St. Patrick's Day in Savannah for the Ray family when Jimmy, like Charlie Ray was before his son, is the most celebrated Irishman in town.
"He and my mother are 100 percent part of this,'' Ray said of his parents. "We talk about our family all the time, there's folks that they're here in memory, but they're here in spirit with us all. That day I'll ask my mom and dad to make sure I behave myself and do the right thing. I sure will.''