Savannah's favorite parade has a brand new grand marshal. John Burke is the son of an Irish immigrant. He's originally from Connecticut, but he's made his home in Savannah for more than a quarter century, never dreaming he'd one day lead the St. Patrick's Day Parade through downtown Savannah. On Sunday morning, Savannah's St. Patrick's Day committee unanimously voted to present him with the city's highest honor.
In less than three weeks, when Savannah's best known parade winds through the city, John Burke will be right up front.
"For this group in the St. Patrick's Day committee to select me as grand marshal is the finest honor that I have ever received or will ever receive," said Burke, "It's wonderful."
On Sunday morning, Burke arrived at Benedictine Military School with the parade committee, all dressed in green, to learn the news first hand. It didn't take long. He was the only nomination; however, Burke won the committee's unanimous approval as the best man for the job.
"John has been a working member of the parade committee for many, many years," said committee member Jay Burke, who shares the same last name, although the two men are not related. "He's just a great guy and it's just great to have him as our grand marshal this year."
John Burke has been a part of Savannah's St. Patrick's Day celebration for more than 25 years, when he was introduced to it all through his job at the Savannah Morning News.
"I've watched it grow from a community thing to a parade of national recognition," he said. "It's been a wonderful, wonderful many years to see how this thing has grown and how much the Irish have done for this city. It never entered my mind to be grand marshal. I didn't do it for that. I did it because I love working with the people. I love working with the bands. I love working with the people on the street in the parade. I love to see it develop."
While he has many memories of parades' past, the best for Burke may be yet to come.
"I'll be thinking about how fortunate I am," said Burke, when he was asked what will be going through his mind as he travels the parade route. "How fortunate it has been for me to have settled in this community. How fortunate is it that I have met all these wonderful people."
Burke's duties as grand marshal don't end with leading the parade. He'll start representing the Savannah's St. Patrick's Day committee this week. On Tuesday, he'll throw out the first ball at Benedictine Military School's baseball game. On Wednesday, he'll travel with the parade committee to Atlanta to speak to Georgia lawmakers.