By Seth Daniel
When Robert Beckwith grew up on Polk Street in the Bunker Hill Development, Bunker Hill Day and the Parade – always held religiously in those days on June 17 – were the focal point of most of the year.
It was what turned the wheels of the Town from February to July, and sometimes beyond.
Beckwith, named this year’s Grand Marshal about a month ago, said this week in an interview at the 520 Club that he hopes to continue the quest began in recent years to make the Parade the focal point of the Town once again. In a fun, tongue-and-cheek nod to this past year’s presidential election, he said the slogan this year will be, “Make Bunker Hill Day Great Again.”
“When I was growing up the big thing was the Parade was always on the 17th every year,” he said. “They never moved it. Everyone would ask, ‘What are you doing on the 17th?’ That was the buzz word. You would plan everything around the 17th. It was all about families, and a carnival atmosphere and a party atmosphere. Everyone had an open house. Everyone was welcome. It was just a fun time being with friends and family. That fun atmosphere brought everyone together and kept everyone together.”
Beckwith brings an energy to the Marshal’s post this year that began last year, and to an extent, the year before. Already, he has hosted a kick-off for fundraising on Sunday, April 2, at the Knights of Columbus, and this year’s Parade T-Shirts are already on sale at the Warren Tavern, Monument 251 Restaurant and at McCarthy’s Liquors. Short sleeve shirts are $15 and long sleeve are $20, and all proceeds benefit the Parade effort.
Beckwith comes from a storied family in Charlestown, and though he now lives in Woburn with his wife, Carol – and has four adult children, Lauren, Carolyn, Thomas and Valerie, spread out through the area – he still makes Charlestown a daily stop in his retired life. He said his family was the first one to move into the Bunker Hill Development in 1941. His brother, Tom Beckwith, was one of the firefighters that tragically died in the Hotel Vendome fire 45 years ago in the Back Bay. His other brother, Richard Beckwith, was killed when he was shot in a bar during a robbery in Charlestown many years ago.
Robert attended the former McDonald Elementary School – which no longer exists but was on the site of Charlestown High. He also attended the Edwards Middle School and went on to Charlestown High – where he was a standout in football. He went on to play college football at Olivet College in Michigan. Later, he was a high school coach at Boston’s former Christopher Columbus High and then at Billerica High School.
Professionally, Beckwith went on to become a Somerville firefighter for 10 years, and then switched careers to become a police officer in the old Metropolitan District Commission (MDC) – the precursor of the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). When the MDC Police were folded into the State Police, Beckwith took on the role of a Trooper and served at Logan Airport, on the Governor’s Auto Theft Task Force, and with the Secret Service on financial crimes task forces.
After 34 years in all his jobs, he retired about three years ago as a sergeant on the State Police.
Now, Beckwith said he’s ready to give some of his energy to the Parade hie cherished as a youngster.
“The slogan this year is a play on Trump’s slogan, ‘Make Bunker Hill Day Great Again,’ and we’re having some fun with that,” he said. “Really, though, the message there is we want to bring the Parade back to prominence…It could very easily go away if people don’t put the time and energy into it. We’re trying to do the right thing and build it up a little bit.”
One of the things he plans to do that’s a little bit new and different is to host a Grand Marshal’s Block Party on Saturday, June 10, from 2-6 p.m.
“We’re going to host it at 500 Main St. and we’ll have an Irish band and the Bunker Hillbillies will perform too,” he said, noting that he will have loads of family entertainment for everyone, including inflatables and a ventriloquist. “I am inviting the whole community to come down and we want it to be a family time. We want all the new people in the Town to come down and enjoy themselves with those of us who have been here. I asking all the restaurants to contribute if they can. I already have Monument and the Warren Tavern contributing. It’s going to be a big, happy community party.”
Naturally, the Charlestown Pride Week will feature all of the great events that happen every year, such as the Edna Kelly Doll Carriage Parade and the Peter Looney Night – not to mention all of the others.
But Beckwith said he’s concentrating on the Parade portion, and he’s lined up a lot of folks to march with him. One highlight in that vein will be Ed Kelly of the Boston Fire Union, who will march with Beckwith and will lead a commemoration during the Parade to Tom Beckwith to mark the 45th anniversary of the Vendome fire.
“There are going to be a few surprises; it’s going to be fun,” he concluded.
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