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O'Connor to Reign Supreme at Rose Parade

The retiring U.S. Supreme Court justice will return to her Western roots to preside over the 117th ride down Colorado Boulevard.

October 19, 2005|Patricia Ward Biederman | Times Staff Writer

As the newly announced grand marshal for the 2006 Rose Parade, retiring U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has an odd act to follow.

This year's grand marshal was Mickey Mouse.

Without benefit of Mickey's oversized white gloves, O'Connor will wave to the crowds Jan. 2 as she rides along the parade route through Pasadena in an antique auto.

The selection of O'Connor, who attended the parade as a little girl, is a landmark of sorts for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn.

O'Connor -- who in 1981 became the first woman named to the U. S. Supreme Court -- was the personal choice of Libby Evans Wright, a former healthcare executive and the first woman to serve as president of the Tournament of Roses in its 117-year history.

Wright announced her choice alongside O'Connor on Tuesday in Washington. The setting, aptly enough, was a rose garden -- not the White House Rose Garden, but one on the grounds of Evermay, a historic Washington home.

It was the first time Wright had met the associate justice, who in July announced her intention to retire as soon as her successor is confirmed.

"As president of the Tournament of Roses, I have the honor of selecting the theme for the parade and the individual I would like to join us as our grand marshal," said Wright in her official statement. "I chose 'It's Magical' as our theme because I believe it perfectly reflects the wonder and excitement people experience at the Rose Parade."

As the organization's first female president, Wright said she was proud "to have the opportunity to show women there are opportunities to be first. Sandra Day O'Connor is a shining example of what intelligence and determination can bring."

In O'Connor's statement, the 75-year-old justice said: "I cannot think of a more exciting way to begin the next chapter of my life than by riding down Colorado Boulevard as Grand Marshal of the 2006 Tournament of Roses.

"When I was a little girl, my parents and I traveled several times to the Rose Parade all the way from our ranch in Arizona just to see the majestic floats. The experience was indeed magical and I have kept it with me."

Presiding over the parade is the grand marshal's only official duty, tournament staff said. O'Connor also will be invited to official tournament luncheons, dinners and parties in the week before the parade. And the marshal traditionally tosses the coin to start the Rose Bowl game.

Officials said they didn't know if O' Connor would do more than preside at the parade.

Wright said she was thrilled that O'Connor had accepted her invitation.

"I believe she's truly magical, in what she has accomplished as a person and what she has given to this country," Wright said. "Like many Americans, I have followed her career, and I have been impressed with her for many, many years in her role as the first woman Supreme Court justice."

Although the final decision was Wright's, she said she began the search for a grand marshal months ago, in collaboration with association staff and her husband, Bill Wright, a Pasadena neurosurgeon.

"We made a list and her name was on it," she said.

Wright said she and her colleagues tested the waters before offering the justice the honorary post: "We knew a very close friend of hers [Oklahoma Judge Robert Henry] who talked to her for us before we spoke to her directly."

O'Connor will follow in the footsteps of grand marshals who have included President Herbert Hoover, singer Kate Smith, soccer star Pele and humorist Erma Bombeck as well as Mickey Mouse.

During lunch Tuesday, O'Connor spoke warmly of her Western girlhood, growing up on a ranch and riding horses alongside her father and family, Wright said.

Wright said that she began her involvement with the Tournament of Roses more than 25 years ago. At first, she performed such nonexecutive tasks as directing traffic and standing at barricades as flower-bedecked floats glided by.

Those jobs were important too, she said: "It takes all levels to make it happen."

The Rose Parade now claims an audience of 1 million along its route and 50 million domestic television viewers.

Four former or future presidents of the United States have been grand marshals of the parade, starting with Hoover in 1945; Richard Nixon served in 1953 and 1960; Dwight Eisenhower presided in 1964; and Gerald Ford held the post in 1978.

O'Connor is not the first Supreme Court justice to serve. Earl Warren was grand marshal twice, in 1943 as governor of California and in 1955 after he became chief justice.

In the early years of the Rose Parade, the honor traditionally went to one of its founders or Pasadena insiders.

The marshal of the first Rose Parade in 1890 was Dr. Francis Rowland, a leader of Pasadena's Valley Hunt Club, which launched the event. He presided over five more processions down Colorado Boulevard, the last in 1916.

Dozens of movie stars have served as grand marshal, starting with "America's Sweetheart," Mary Pickford, in 1933.

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