Rockport parade bandleader to pass the plunger, er, baton after 50 years

For 50 consecutive years Rockport has been entertained by George Ramsden, the leader of the Rockport Fireman’s Band, during the Fourth of July parade. This year, Ramsden will march for the last time, ending his evening with “the passing of the plunger.”

At 22, Ramsden was ordered by his father to lead the whimsical band, and Ramsden obliged.

“Men got together and dressed up in crazy costumes and marched,” said Ramsden. “I grabbed a plunger and used it as a baton.”

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He still dons the outfit he wore on his first march, a red nightshirt bought in 1959, his freshman year at Providence College, and firefighter boots to honor the theme of the band. A recent addition to his costume is the helmet his son wears as a Providence firefighter.

The Firemen’s Band always leads the parade, and Ramsden has never missed a year.

“I’ve had the honor of doing this — and a lot of memories,” said Ramsden, 72. Seeing his fans’ smiles has spurred Ramsden to never miss a parade.

One of his children was born during one of his performances; he went to the hospital shortly afterward. Another year, Ramsden recalled, he flew to Ireland a day late for a family trip.

Ramsden said there’s “nothing formal” about the band. Some years they stopped to sing “Happy Birthday” to people in the crowd. One year the band played “God Bless America” to a resident who had just received citizenship.

“The bonus of doing this is seeing the happiness on people’s faces,” said Ramsden. “When you bend around that corner, the crowd just goes electric.”

The parade starts at Rockport High School around 6 p.m. and marches for 45 minutes down to the beach for a bonfire. Ramsden said the walk, which is just over a mile, is filled with impromptu acts from the band.

“It’s really the musicians who make this band,” said Ramsden. He commended every member for their great work as volunteers.

Going into tonight’s parade, Ramsden was feeling happy.

“I’m ready for this. I’m so happy I’ve been able to do it,” he said. Although he considers himself an emotional man, he’s at peace with passing on his duties.

Ramsden knows who he will be “passing the plunger” to tonight but does not want to spoil the surprise. He did say that the new band leader is “a wonderful musician.”

Ramsden is dedicating his last parade to the two men who helped him get started as band leader: his late father, George “Rammy” Ramsden, and Billy Crowell, one of his father’s friends.

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