On July 12, 2018, the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council (SBAWVC) appointed Bryan Bishop as director of parade operations for the South Boston St. Patrick’s Day/Evacuation Day Parade. Who’s this new director, and what does his appointment mean for #Southie? Here are the five most important facts to know.
1) Bishop’s lived in the area for 30 years.
The 20-year Air Force veteran originally hails from North Carolina, but he’s lived in New England since 1988. In the Air Force, he was director of operations for its official Band of Liberty as well as a principal singer and piano player. He also acted as technical producer, doing lighting, sound, and production design for hundreds of shows worldwide. After retiring in 2007, he joined the workforce and got a degree from U Mass Lowell. Now he lives in East Boston.
2) He supports veterans, on and off the clock.
In his day job, he manages veteran support for Somerville as commissioner of military affairs and veterans’ services, and previously served as chief of staff of veterans’ services for the City of Boston. Massachusetts has a law that explicitly supports veterans through financial resources and representation. “There’s not another state in the country that can say that,” he says.
Bishop manages the Somerville Veterans Memorial Parade. He’s also the founder and CEO of OUTVETS, a non-partisan organization of LGBTQ veterans. The idea for an organization came to him 25 years ago, when he was still serving and not yet openly gay. “I hoped that one day, hopefully in my lifetime, gays could serve openly. There are groups for women veterans, for veterans who served overseas. I wanted the same for our community.” OUTVETS began in 2014 as a social space and a place for resources. Former Southie parade director Brian Mahoney actually pitched and advocated for OUTVETS to join the parade in 2014, before ensuing controversy. “We weren’t trying to push an agenda—this organization is about helping veterans and saving their lives. We wanted to march in a veterans parade,” says Bishop.
3) His appointment is the result of a citywide search for the best candidate.
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When the director position opened up in 2018, a new job description was developed and vetted through the council. After that, the council searched Boston-wide for individuals willing to devote time and expertise, including engaging with Southie community leaders for suggestions and meeting with prospective candidates.
SBAWVC commander Dave Falvey explains, “Bryan eventually emerged as the hands-down best candidate. He reviewed the position description and concurred with his role, and at a meeting between Bryan, Senior Vice Commander Colin Smith, and myself, we discussed the position in more detail and Bryan’s vision. That meeting validated that Bryan was on the same page with what the council was looking for, and I knew he would be a great fit for the role.”
4) Bishop and the SBAWVC are making changes slowly and thoughtfully.
For 2019’s parade, Bishop says he’s looking to learn about the unique ins and outs without making drastic shifts, although he says he’s hoping to streamline the process immediately. Among the proposed changes includes making the entire process digital: forms, instructions, payment, and donations. He also hopes to do dry runs and stage the parade in divisions to make the flow easier. Bishop has a very simple formula for parades, no matter their size: “Make a list. What do we need? Then we build a team to take care of the specific parts of the project. There’s an update every single day, even if there’s no change. That way, everything runs smoothly and problems present themselves quickly.”
Falvey says, “Though there’s a perception that the director unilaterally calls all the shots with regard to the parade, and it may have been that way in the past, that’s no longer how this council operates. As Commander, my focus is on the strategic objectives of the parade and the council, which will work hand-in-hand with Bryan to ensure he has the resources to be successful. It is very much a team effort, and we’re excited to have someone with such relevant experience in this role, particularly given his passion for advocating for veterans.”
5) Bishop says the parade’s focus will be on veterans and family.
“The parade should focus on family, St. Patrick’s Day, and our veterans. We want people to want to be in this parade. Participants should feel like we really care about them,” Bishop says. He also insists on transparency: “The community owns this. We want to share the process and what we did—I want to give Southie a parade they can be proud of.”
The 2019 parade will actually fall on St. Patrick’s Day and promises to be an event to watch. “If only we can get some help from Mother Nature this year with some decent weather,” says Falvey.
“I would love for this parade to eventually be on par with Macy’s, to make the entire world look at Boston,” says Bishop. “Nowhere else but Southie—not Chicago, not New York, not even Dublin. I’m excited and honored to be able to do this.”
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