MERIDEN — Rachel Williams, a city resident who decided to move to Meriden after attending her first St. Patrick’s Day parade in 2014, has been named grand marshal of Saturday’s 46th annual parade.
“It’s just a very big honor because parade day is part of the reason I moved to Meriden,” said Williams, who was unanimously selected as marshal by members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the Irish-American organization that runs the parade. “I’m just happy and honored they chose me. It was a very nice surprise.”
After living her whole life in and around Boston, Williams warmed up to the idea of moving to Meriden, the hometown of her now-husband Andrew Stott, after attending the parade with Stott in 2014.
“Back when we were first dating, one of the first events we went to as a couple was parade day. And I just loved the vibe, it reminded me of home,” said Williams, a first-generation American whose Irish father emigrated from Dublin and whose Scottish mother emigrated from Canada.
“It was a big move,” said Williams, who moved to Connecticut with her son, Matthew, now a junior at Southern Connecticut State University. “My whole life I lived with family. To go 100 miles away doesn’t seem like anything, but it was a huge deal.”
Williams has always enjoyed attending and getting involved with parades. She sees the events as a vehicle for a community to “to honor their past and get people excited about the future.”
“Parades are a big part of who I am. Parades and (Boston’s annual Marathon Monday) are my two favorite things,” she said.
This year’s parade will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday and will have the same route as last year's — stepping off at the corner of East Main Street and Parker Avenue, continuing through downtown Meriden and ending at the corner of West Main Street and Bradley Avenue.
After moving to Meriden, Williams, who works as a secretary at MidState Medical Center, said she initially felt lonely but soon became connected with the community by volunteering at the local chapters of the AOH and American Legion.
She and her husband have attended every annual St. Patrick’s Day parade since 2014 and in recent years the couple has decorated their white pickup truck and participated in the parade.
Jim Finley, the co-chair of the parade, said Williams has been a very active member and has done a lot to help out with various events and fundraisers. The title of grand marshal, Finley said, is meant to recognize how active a member has been and the high esteem they’re held in by other members.
“It’s meant to be a sign of high gratitude,” Finley said. “There are two things that every Irish-American wants, and that’s to own your own pub and be the grand marshal of a St. Patrick’s Day parade.”
Finley believes the AOH’s selection of Williams as grand marshal reflects her “contagious enthusiasm” for the organization. He also said Williams’ experience of being drawn to Meriden by the parade “underscores how important the parade is to a lot of people in Meriden.”
Up until a few weeks ago, the 46th annual parade had been in jeopardy due to a lack of funding. The AOH had to scramble in recent months to raise $5,000 in private donations to make up for $4,000 in funding from the city that was cut in this year’s budget by the City Council in August.
For future parades, Williams said she hopes to be involved in year-round fundraising for the parade, which costs about $8,000 to run annually, according to Finley.
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