Tribute to Tom Rice – Volunteer for over 50 years.
In 1970 Judge Comerford “laid down the law” that no workers were allowed to talk to the press at all, especially in regards to rumors about the parade being moved to Third Ave. It quickly became a mantra that still has echos in the directions given to the hundreds of volunteers who come to work the parade. That was Tom Rice’s first experience working the parade in formations under Reilly Dundon. Tom’s son Tommy Rice, a retired NYPD Sargent, also works the parade. He has been honored by the Irish Echo for his work in law enforcement. Both Father and son can be found working on the West Side of Formations every year.
Tom recalls the parade becoming tough back when all the schools started taking the day off and coming to the city to drink. Those were the days people would get rowdy. Tom had bottles thrown in his face, and had people spit in his face. Then they started cracking down on the drinking and police got more involved.
Tom remembers the year of the hunger strike in Ireland, and the troubles, not just in Ireland but within the parade itself. The IRA was marching, and wanting to show their banners among other different things. There was a hard and fast rule. All marchers are told there are only two banners allowed in the parade. The approved “Groups Named Banner” and “England Get Out of Ireland” Banner. Marchers hid banners and would pull them out once they started marching up the avenue. It was up to Tom to tell them that banner is not allowed.
Loyalty to Saint Patrick
When someone asked him who he was working for because different people competed for control of different areas of the parade and Tom was asked who he is loyal towards. Tom always replied that he works for Saint Patrick and he is loyal to Saint Patrick first. In Tom’s eyes this is why the parade is such a success each year, because everyone is in charge of themselves.
As mentioned earlier the mayor and police commissioner of NYC tried to move the parade over to third ave. The AOH, Parade Committee and County Organizations banded together to refuse. They did not want to take the parade away from Saint Patricks Cathedral. Tom remembers when the parade used to end on 96th. Street. He remembers when they moved it to 86th Street. After a while there were some problems and some people wanted to move the parade to 3rd ave. Everyone agreed to allow the parade to end at 79th street as a compromise, although you can still hear many people say 86th Street is still the most logical place to end the parade.
Early Parade Memories
As a boy Tom worked in the Safeway on 96th Street and 3rd. Ave where the parade used to end. He thinks about how some dress up “like lace curtain Irish” to march in or even spectate at the parade. One year there was a big fire and they had to divert the parade around to Madison Ave.
The Parade and Celebration Committee holds a luncheon for the workers after the parade. The workers parties are fun and a nice thank you to everyone who volunteers each year. Both Tom and Tommy received plaques recognizing them for their work and contributions to the parade.
Tom Rice lives at 237th and Riverdale. He is originally from Ascension Parish. He later moved uptown to Inwood to raise his family before finally settling in Riverdale where he and his wife Mary married 60 years this coming June attend Saint Gabriel’s church.He has a daughter Ann, son Patrick, and son Thomas, who is the oldest. The son is a retired Sargent from the NYPD and has been honored by Irish Echo for his work in Law Enforcement.