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Reals Reflects on Decades as Memorial Day Parade’s Voice

garyreals013From behind-the-scenes dish to fond parade-day memories, Falls Church’s resident television celebrity, former Channel 9 newscaster Gary Reals, chatted with the News-Press about what it’s like to be entering his 21st year as the F.C. Memorial Day Parade announcer.

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Gary Reals (Photo: Gary Mester)

From behind-the-scenes dish to fond parade-day memories, Falls Church’s resident television celebrity, former Channel 9 newscaster Gary Reals, chatted with the News-Press about what it’s like to be entering his 21st year as the F.C. Memorial Day Parade announcer.

 

News-Press: Tell me about your first year announcing in 1989.

Gary Reals: The first year, and every year thereafter, it’s been nothing but a complete stitch. It’s been a hoot. Before, I’d never liked parades. Even when I was a youngster, it held no interest for me at all. When Howard [Herman] asked me the first time, I certainly wasn’t doubtful about being able to commit. But privately, to myself, I thought I’d be doing them a huge favor.

But now, I love doing it. I really do. It’s such a slice of small town Americana, or small city, I should say – The Little City. I’ve come to appreciate the event and what it’s all about. It’s a tribute to our soldiers, sailors and airmen and women who paid the ultimate price. And there’s no better way to pay tribute to them than to celebrate and have fun with it.

 

N-P: What former news anchor skills do you bring to table as the parade announcer?

Reals: [Laughs], I’ll let others judge my skills. I will say I know the community very well and the parade draws on many groups and organizations. I think it’s more of the Falls Church persona that I enjoy the most. I feel like I’m a member of the community.

 

N-P: So, then what’s your favorite part of the parade?

Reals: The kids are an absolute ball; they are just so funny. And not just the kids either. The clowns are a hoot and I love the Bolivian dancers and the political folks of all stripes who become a part of it. I just think it’s a wonderful tapestry of community and people from elsewhere to community, even Bobby Jo Small bearing the rugged cross. Some people don’t appreciate that, but that’s one man’s expression!

 

N-P: What’s the biggest advantage to being the announcer?

Reals: You definitely get a bird’s eye view of [the parade], for sure. I enjoy that. One thing that is somewhat challenging is keeping abreast of, not so much changes – there are always changes in lineup. But when you find out someone’s not there or jumped ahead three spaces, to try to be right on when that parade entry comes by reviewing such matters with the staff. But it flows quite naturally. They’ll whisper in my ear, “Entry 33 in now in 24th position,” which I try to avoid from happening.

 

N-P: How do you prepare the day before? Do you write your own script or is all ad-lib?

Reals: I’m given a script before hand of what each entry wants me to read. Sometimes I have to do some quick editing because it’s so long, and then sometimes there’s enough time to actually add to or embellish their write up to give everyone a fair bit of time. For the longer entries, some of those folks just keep coming and coming, so at least the write-up gets me up until they parse out. In the end, hopefully I didn’t call the mayor the wrong member of council.

I can’t remember any significant faux pas. The main thing is keeping abreast of who’s coming down the avenue approaching. The other thing is to give it the F.C. flavor. Before parade begins, I do some welcoming comments, kind of capture the spirit of day. I’ll spend a little time working on that usually, but after nearly 20 years, I’m sure parade-goers find it a little familiar. [Laughs]

 

N-P: What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen from the platform?

Reals: One thing I love to have fun with is Suzanne Muldowney, who comes from New Jersey every year. She has four or five different characters and … uh, she’s fun. [Laughs] You got to have fun with Suzanne. She takes it very seriously, of course. There’s also always a lot of 1950s cars, so I’ll have fun with that and say, “There’s been an Elvis sighting on Park Avenue!”

 

N-P: So, you’re saying there’s no parade dirt to share from over the years?

Reals: Well, Nick [Benton] has always behaved himself, as far as I know. [Laughs] Basically, I just try to be respectful and have fun that day.

 

N-P: Who do you think has the most impressive parade presence?

Reals: It’s always such fun to watch the kids, whether they’re just parading or little majorettes flipping their batons – and they go flying in all different directions [laughs] – that’s the most fun. I don’t know whether that’s impressive or not, but certainly the most fun are the little kids. And then you have the Bolivian dancers and they are all dressed up in brilliant costumes. I can’t imagine. It’s such a long parade route to spend in full, heavy costume in the summer heat and dancing so hard. Also impressive are color guards. They’re probably the only precision in our parade! Being an old marine myself, I appreciate a little precision.

 

N-P: Who’s been the most memorable Grand Marshal thus far?

Reals: Well, [the City] usually draws upon people with long ties and distinguished backgrounds. Last year, we had Jessie Thackrey. She was representing three or four generations of people in Falls Church. I think that that’s such a sweet recognition for someone, being able to have spotlight shown on them alongside their three to four generations who also came to parade. That was a very nice recognition for her.