St. Patrick's Day Festival of Tucson
Family - community - tradition
Sunday, March 17, 2024, 11am - 5pm
Armory Park, 220 S. 6th Avenue
I'm truly humbled to be selected as the Grand Marshal. I want to thank the parade committee for this honor. Never in a million years did I ever imagine this.
Growing up on Long Island in New York, I had two favorite holidays. 1. The 4th of July and 2. St. Patrick's Day
Now I know St. Patrick’s Day is not really a holiday, but don’t tell that to the Irish, you will never
St. Patrick's Day to me was always a celebration. A celebration of culture that was on full display in the
streets of New York. My dad is retired NYPD and my first memories were of watching the parade on TV
when I was just a kid. It seemed as if the whole city stopped and I recall seeing all of the policemen and
firefighters participating in the parade. Later, I would get to hear all of the stories my dad would share,
especially the one of my dad’s old partner, “The Lion”, Billy Cutter. They called him this because of his big
mane of red hair and his round face, in full NYPD dress uniform, his 8-point hat turned backward, working
behind the bar after the parade. I think it was then that I knew I wanted to be a cop.
On Long Island, some sixty-plus miles east of the city, our small parade would go down Main Street in the town where I went to High School. It was like something you see in a movie, small-town America. My buddies and I beginning to enjoy the "spirit" of St. Patrick’s Day just a little more now, if you know what I mean. It was not really until I got a bit older that I was able to appreciate and understand the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day a little better.
When Murph first called me, I thought he was pulling my leg. My first question to him was, "why me, heck my last name is not O'Brien or Lafferty, surely there has to be someone more Irish around? My last name is Swedish.” I did not feel deserving of this honor. Of course, he laughed, like a good Irishman always does, interjected a little colorful language I cannot share, and told me that my dear friend Jack had nominated me. The committee agreed, and it had been decided! In the days and weeks following, everyone seemed so excited for me. I wasn’t so confident, but I was humbled. Now, some three years later I remain humbled, and excited. Best of all, I have made some new friends along the way.
I have spent the entirety of my adult life in public service. When I was 18 I left for the military and served in the United States Navy for six years as a Nuclear Machinists Mate, having served in the first Persian Gulf War. After leaving the Navy I moved to Tucson and started my career with the City of Tucson in 1995. This past January I reached my 27th year with the Tucson Police Department.
Like so many other cultures, the Irish have a proud history of service to this country, and I feel blessed to walk among them. I am committed to this community, the health and happiness of the men and women who serve their great communities each day and night, particularly those here in Tucson, and the thousands of servicemen and women who serve, and have served our great nation.
When I was selected, I was really troubled by what I might say. St Patrick after all is celebrated for bringing Christianity to Ireland. Heck, I’m not the best Christian. I can only hope that if St Peter was an attorney, he would have been a civil attorney. I'm confident I would get in with 50.1%, but "beyond a reasonable doubt”? I don’t know, the jury could be out a while on that one. But the same could be said for any good Irishman I suppose!
As I began to think about things more and more, I realized that being Irish is like being from Arizona.
Besides my wife….who the heck is actually from Arizona? Certainly not most people my age; most of us have
migrated here from somewhere else, both near and far. But no matter where we come from, we all bring with
us culture and tradition. The beauty in all of it is that we all get to share it.
I am so fortunate to be surrounded by so many people I love and those that have supported me throughout
my journey. My beautiful wife of 21 years, Amanda, my son Shea Michael, and my daughter Abigail Rhea.
My in-laws Guy and Donna Heidinger and my extended family with Bram, Ian, and Christian. All of my friends
that have lent an ear over the years and helped me stay the course. And of course my parents, Ron and Janet
Carlson. Thanks, Mom and Dad for blessing me with my Irish blood!
My paternal grandmother, Iris, maiden name of Priest. Her grandparents were from County Clare Midwest
Ireland, along the River Shannon and her family is traced to the name Kerin. They arrived in the United States via the Prince Edward Island in Canada before heading south.
My mother’s maiden name is McKay and her grandmother was an O’Brien. Mary O’Brien, of the County of Cork, Southwest Ireland. She arrived here in the United States through Ellis Island at the age of 15 traveling with a cousin. She worked as a “lady maid” and eventually had 7 children.
I think sometimes we take for granted what immigrant families endure. As I mentioned, we, and our families, have all migrated from somewhere. So I am thankful to the City of
Tucson for allowing us to share all of these cultures and traditions with one another and providing me with the opportunity to have served you all. I am blessed for the career I have had, the people who have helped shape this life of mine, and those that will help me continue on this journey.
On St. Patrick’s Day, we celebrate the Irish and we get to share our stories. When you share your story, you share a part of yourself that others will remember. So share a gat, share your whiskey and share your story, because today, on this very special St. Patrick’s Day to me, we are all Irish.
-2022 Grand Marshal John Carlson