Rain is rare on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, but it happens. Starting in 1895, five years after the first floral spectacular, it rained a total of 10 times, the latest downpour coming in 2006. The one before that occurred in 1955 – the seventh time in 10 decades. That year, US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren served as grand marshal, fresh from the nine-member court’s unanimous decision the previous year to end segregation in public schools in the case Brown v. Board of Education.
Ironically, in 2006, another history-making Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, in 1981 the first woman appointed to the High Court, led the parade. This historical coincidence — with rain falling on Warren, who also famously led the investigation into the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy and in 1943 served as grand marshal when he was governor of California, and now on O’Connor — was not lost on me.
Having seen more than my fair share of Rose Parades, I would have been fine with watching this one on Channel 5. But my significant other, who each year insists on seeing the entire event, was having none of that. Of course, she was impressed by O’Connor, who retired later that year after 25 years on the bench. But she also wanted to see the spectacular floats, the bands, the horses, the pageantry. So we stayed, and after more than two hours we were drenched.
As choosing political luminaries such as Warren and O’Connor illustrates, the grand marshals are very important to the overall event, this year the honor bestowed upon multiple award-winning actress Rita Moreno, Olympic Gold and Silver Medalist Laurie Hernandez and actress Gina Torres, chosen by this year’s TofR President Laura Farber, the first Latina to serve in that role, to fit the theme, “The Power of Hope.” But, as my girlfriend shows, grand marshals are not the only elements of the parade that people come to see each year.
The Rose Parade features three types of entries: Floral decorated floats, which are sponsored by participating corporations or community organizations, equestrian units and marching bands. The only cars in the parade are those that carry the grand marshals, the mayor of Pasadena, the Rose Bowl Game Hall of Fame inductees, and that year’s TofR president.
There will be 39 floats this year, most of them made by perennial float builders Phoenix Decorating Co. and Fiesta Parade Floats, both of Irwindale, and AES, or Artistic Entertainment Services of Azusa. In addition, there will be five others: one for the Opening Spectacular, another for the Grand Finale, still another for the 2020 Royal Court, and two representing the two teams playing in the 106th Rose Bowl Game later that day, the Oregon Ducks and the Wisconsin Badgers.
Some 935 organization volunteers donate an astonishing 80,000 hours to the cause throughout the year. Still other volunteers work on applying flowers to the floats docked at their various locations until the very last day.
Like most other political dignitaries asked to serve as grand marshal – Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon (twice), John Wayne, Walt Disney, Bob Hope, Gerald Ford – Warren and O’Connor were both Republicans. And in another irony of history, both presided over national political and social storms in the realms of civil rights and equal rights during their respective times on the bench.
A man of Swedish and Norwegian stock, Warren was considered a “liberal Republican” when he was governor of California, before being nominated for Supreme Court Chief Justice by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1953. Ike was also a Rose Parade grand marshal in 1951 (when he was a general, having Corporal Robert S. Gray sit in for him), and in 1964, still a calming national influence just more than a month after the assassination of Kennedy, his successor.
In the Brown case of 1954, Warren actually lobbied the other justices to agree with his controversial majority opinion to desegregate public schools, and they all did. This apparently displeased Ike. Nevertheless, Eisenhower respected the rule of law. He even sent troops to Little Rock in 1957 to enforce “Warren’s law.”
O’Connor grew up in Texas, attended Stanford and raised a family in Arizona while holding elected office in that state’s Legislature. She faced a similar test in 1992 with Planned Parenthood of SE Pennsylvania v. Casey, an abortion rights case. She was a primary author of the majority opinion overturning portions of onerous legislation which, in part, would have required women to notify their mates before seeking an abortion. In a complicated decision, the Court upheld the constitutional right to have an abortion that was established in Roe v. Wade in 1973, but altered the standard for analyzing restrictions on that right. In O’Connor’s part of the of opinion, spousal notification was a recipe for injury or death for the woman, and most of her colleagues agreed.
Both Warren and O’Connor weathered torrential political storms for their decisions in their two hallmark cases; a consequence of doing their duty, which was following the rule of law and upholding the rights of minorities, women and others among America’s under-protected underclasses. Progress is never easy, and theirs were rulings that helped pave the way for women and members of racial minorities to achieve things so great that they’ve since earned long overdue praise, admiration and positions of power.
In his time, Warren could not have imagined a woman or a minority person as TofR president or grand marshal, but in 2005 it was the TofR’s first woman president, Libby Evans Wright, who selected O’Connor. Likewise, O’Connor might have never imagined a minority person being chosen as president, but that also happened, with Gerald Freeny, who is African American, selected president for 2019, with Chaka Khan serving as grand marshal.
As of this writing, Dec. 20, extended forecasts show a 10 percent chance of rain on Dec. 29, a 20 percent chance on Dec. 30, a 40 percent chance on New Year’s Eve, with showers in the forecast, and a 20 percent chance on the New Year’s Day, with mostly sunny skies forecast by weather.com, the Weather Channel’s website. Speaking from experience, if it does rain, grab your umbrella, put on a hat and a raincoat and tough it out. You may get wet, but, like me, you’ll be glad you witnessed history on parade.