For decades, Walter Ramsey has watched the parade pass him by. This year, he led the march.
The Bayport-Blue Point Chamber of Commerce held its 28th annual St. Patrick’s Day parade last Sunday. Ramsey, who turned 80 last month, has participated every year as the parade’s master of ceremonies. But he got a new title this year: grand marshal.
Ramsey still remembers where it all began: 27 years ago at Cavanaugh’s, the Irish pub and restaurant in Blue Point.
“I was sitting, having a beer,” Ramsey remembered with a grin. “And [parade founder] Chris Cavanaugh came over to me and he said, ‘We’re going to have a little parade for St. Patrick’s Day, and I can’t think of anybody else to do the announcing for it. Can you talk about all the people that go by?’”
Ramsey happily agreed. The parade stretches down Montauk Highway from Bayport to Blue Point, and he was set up on a stage at the end of the route. Ramsey would speak before crowds of Long Islanders, talking about the floats, performers and organizations as they marched along.
Ramsey’s booming baritone is attention-grabbing, making him an ideal fit for the job. But he said it took him two or three years to get over his stage fright.
“I guess it was the third year, I realized that very few people actually hear me because of the wind and everything else and being outdoors, the sound just blows away,” he said. “And I realized that the people in front of me and the people over across the street in the stands, they’re the only ones that hear me. Therefore, it really didn’t matter too much what I said! And if I made a mistake, I made a mistake.”
But he never missed out the St. Patrick’s Day festivities. “It’s my one chance a year for two or three hours to be a big ham,” he said with a laugh.
Now in his new role, Ramsey was placed at the beginning of the route. Before the celebration kicked off, he rubbed elbows with former grand marshals. His family flew in from California and Delaware for the occasion, and his grandchildren and step-grandchildren proudly held up his regal grand marshal banner.
Ramsey said the biggest part of his preparation for the new gig was choosing an outfit.
“Some people wear tuxes and everything else, and I figured I’ll stay casual,” he said, showing off his plush green sport coat.
Ramsey, a retired science teacher, has taught at districts all over Nassau and Suffolk, from Floral Park Memorial High School to Center Moriches High School. He’s become a famous face in his own community of Bayport, with folks greeting and congratulating him all throughout the day.
Once the parade got started, Ramsey and his partner, Patricia Valenti, piled into a forest green Mustang and took off down Montauk Highway. Even as grand marshal, his master of ceremonies roots showed: He chatted with the crowd and wished everyone a happy St. Patrick’s Day.
As the Mustang reached the end of the route, this year’s master of ceremonies, Lenore Ringer-Prezioso, told the crowd that for 27 years, Ramsey has been able to “handle every single thing we threw his way.”
Ramsey joked about Ringer-Prezioso saying that he'd jump in to take back over his old duties 10 minutes after the announcements started.
But when it comes to his grand marshal status, he’s humbled: “This feels fantastic.”