"Why don’t we have a parade to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?"
Those few words were spoken on a Saturday afternoon in March, 1967 when several Brother Knights of Father Kealey Council 3548 were sitting at the bar of their one-room, cinder block home on Government Avenue in Norfolk, VA.
The words, repeatedly spoken launched one of Norfolk’s most enduring traditions.
Based on local legend, the first parade consisted of several Brother Knights marching around the council home carrying trash can lids and brooms. Following several trips around the building and several stops for liquid refreshment, a momentous decision was made: Father Kealey Council would organize and sponsor a "real" St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
On a brisk Saturday afternoon in March, 1968 the first Grand Marshall donned the traditional green top hat and climbed into the backseat of a Cadillac convertible. History was being written. During the last 35-years many more pages have been added to the history of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
The first parade consisted of a few marching bands and a couple of small bands. A small crowd of maybe several hundred people lined the parade route to wave and cheer.
How times have changed.
The 2001 edition of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade featured more than 190 bands, marching units, and floats. And thousands of people lined the two-mile long parade route. The parade is now one of the largest events of its kind on the East Coast. The colorful, fun filled, family oriented parade generated significant media attention and produced tremendous exposure for the business sponsors.
"You simply cannot put a price tag on the kind of positive publicity that the parade generates for the sponsors, the City of Norfolk, and the Hampton Roads region" stated the parades general chairman.
"Since the parades inception in 1967, this event has cast a positive light on the City of Norfolk and Hampton Roads," said Norfolk Mayor and former Grand Marshall Paul Fraim.
From humble beginnings 40 years ago, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade sponsored by Father Kealey Council 3548 of the Knights of Columbus has become one of Norfolk’s most cherished traditions.