By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Pat Troy, founder of Alexandria’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, died days after serving as grand marshal of the event. The prominent business owner, community leader and Alexandria Living Legend died of cancer on March 22. He was 76.
Troy was a native of Kilcormac, County Offaly, Ireland. At 21 years old, he immigrated to the United States with just $50 in his pocket, according to Living Legends of Alexandria. Upon first moving to Washington D.C., Troy served as a butler, and his employers included the Kennedys and other elite families.
He married his wife of 52 years, Bernadette, in September of 1965, and they had two children, Kathleen and Patrick.
Troy has been a beloved Alexandria resident for around 40 years. He is known for being the longtime proprietor of Ireland’s Own Restaurant & Pub, where he worked for 35 years before retiring in 2012. Troy and Bernadette also owned the store The Irish Walk.
“Pat Troy is the great American immigrant success story,” Magee Whelan, who knew Troy through Irish heritage, church and local politics, said. “He came here as a legal immigrant, built up a great name, a great reputation, a great business, a great family, and it’s so much because of his native Irish determination and persistence and competitiveness.”
A hallmark of Troy’s legacy was the establishment of the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Old Town. In 1980, Troy founded a group called the Ballyshaners to promote Irish culture and recognize Irish contributions to Alexandria, in addition to organizing the parade, which had its debut in 1982.
“In the early 80s, Troy was saying, ‘Well, you know, the Scottish can have the parade here in December. How come the Irish can’t have a parade in Alexandria in March?’” said former city councilor Frank Fannon, a friend of Troy’s. “So he called the mayor, the fire chief, the police chief into his restaurant and said, ‘I want to have a parade for the Irish.’”
The rest is history. This year’s parade on March 18 was the first time Troy served as grand marshal of he parade he founded.
“What a great way to go,” Whelan said. “That he was able to be, with his beautiful bride Bernadette at his side, that they were able to be grand marshals of the parade this past Sunday, and give his last big shout out, ‘Erin go Bragh’ [Ireland forever] and then three days later, he’s dead. What a high. What a super swan song.”
“He walked out of the door to the parade, and we pray, walked into another parade in heaven not much long after that,” said the Rev. Edward Hathaway, rector of Troy’s parish, the Basilica of St. Mary.
Many other close friends of Troy’s agreed that his grand exit mirrored the extroverted, entertaining and enthusiastic life he lived.
The Ballyshaner’s chair, Kim Moore, said the word to describe Troy was effervescent.
“Pat always talks about doing things with enthusiasm, but when he says it, it comes out as ‘en-too-siasm,’ as in t-o-o,” Moore said. “So we always will talk about stuff among ourselves, and how Pat wants it to be done, and there will always be at least somebody in our group to say, ‘Oh, but you gotta do it with en-too-siasm.’”
Troy’s accomplishments and city involvement are a testament to his “en-toosiasm.”
“The city will have a big hole, but it is a much better place for Pat’s having been here,” Whelan said.
He was not only involved in small businesses and the parade, but St. Mary’s, local Republican politics, the Gaelic Athletic Association, an exchange program called Project Children and several other organizations in the city.
He founded two divisions of the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Maryland and Alexandria and was a member of The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Order of Malta and the Knights of Columbus Fitzgerald Council 459.
In 2011, he wrote an autobiography called, “I have a story to tell.” He also hosted “The Irish Radio Show” for 45 years. As an honor for his impact on the community, he was named an Alexandria Living Legend in 2010. He was also the first to receive the Irish Spirit Award from the Washington Nationals.
“I just always loved being in his presence. He had so much wisdom, and there was always laughter,” Mayor Allison Silberberg said. “You couldn’t just walk down the street with Pat Troy. Every few seconds somebody wanted to talk to him.”
Troy was always eager to try to improve the city.
“He had that Irish vigor that was just amazing, and he put passion into everything he did,” Fannon said. “I think that’s why everybody appreciated and respected him and just loved being around him, because he was just so enthusiastic.”
Fannon said the day he met Troy was St. Patrick’s Day 1988, the famous day he hosted President Ronald Reagan at his pub. In addition to entertaining Reagan, Troy’s obituary lists meeting Pope Benedict and Pope Francis as some of his life’s highlights.
Troy’s passion for entertaining quickly earned his pub a reputation for hospitality.
“He was the ultimate host. He was born to entertain in Old Town,” said Ken Wolfe, a patron of Ireland’s Own and longtime friend of Troy’s. “Pat did a really good job over the years for decades of keeping Pat Troy’s Ireland’s Own as a fun, neighborhood, family location.”
Wolfe met his wife at a monthly Catholic gathering at the pub called Theology on Tap.
“He would kick it off every month by making sure everyone stood up and said hello to the person on your left and on your right, and you actually met people,” Wolfe said. “He was someone who could easily have you introduced to five people that would become your friends – and that’s just on one night.”
Despite owning and operating a pub for 35 years, Troy had been a member of the Pioneers, an Irish abstinence association that swears off alcohol, since he was a teenager.
“Here is a guy who has made his living, made his life in that Irish pub, Ireland’s Own, and Pat has never ever had a drop of alcohol,” another close friend, J.J. Kelly, said.
Those who knew Troy, especially those who have been to Ireland’s Own on a Saturday night, know the Unicorn Song – a folk song about Noah’s Ark that was made popular in America by The Irish Rovers.
Troy would famously put on a unicorn head, climb on the stage of his pub and lead the crowd through the song’s hand motions. Troy performed one of his last unicorn songs at the Basilica of St. Mary’s annual St. Patrick Irish Hooley on March 10.
The sheer number of people who wanted to speak about Troy upon hearing about his death is in and of itself an indication of his impact on the city.
“He was just incredibly kind hearted, well intentioned, always interested in what was happening in your life,” Moore said. “He was very encouraging. … He really did try his best to make sure that people knew that he was proud of them and pleased for them.”
“He always asked people, when they go out the door of Pat Troy’s Ireland’s Own, say three Hail Mary’s on your way out, and he always asked for a special intention,” Wolfe said. “A lot of my friends and I have communicated with each other that we’ve each been praying three Hail Mary’s for him.”
Troy is survived by his wife, Bernadette; his children, Kathleen and Patrick; his son-in-law, Alan; daughter-in-law, Dow; granddaughters, Mairead and Reyha; and brothers, Michael and Desmond.
There will be a wake at Demaine Funeral Home, 520 S. Washington St., on April 6 from 6 to 8 p.m. A Mass of Christian Burial will take place April 7 at 11 a.m. at The Basilica of St. Mary, 310 S. Royal St., immediately followed by internment at St. Mary’s Cemetery, 1001 S. Royal St.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Ann’s Center for Children, Youth & Families (4901 Eastern Ave., Hyattsville, Maryland, 20782) and Christ House (131 S. West St., Alexandria, 22314).
“He had this great saying, and everybody around him knew it,” Moore said. “That saying was, ‘It’s nice to be important. It’s more important to be nice.’”