Parade has long history for Chief Marshal Joe Chaisson

Joe Chaisson, neighborhood activist and lifelong Dorchester resident, is the 2008  Dorchester Day Parade's Chief Marshal. At 76, he turns to the proverbial rocking chair and says "I'm not getting into you," choosing instead civic duties to stay young. Chaisson has been a fixture at Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association meetings for decades and has run the Dorchester Day Salute to Seniors since 1993. He shares this position with Michael Leahy, a Port Norfolk man who was active in civic affairs and shares this title posthumously. Leahy passed away last December and this title honors his work in Dorchester.

Reporter: Do you have anything prepared to say during the Chief Marshal Banquet?

Joe Chaisson: Not really. I'm not really a big speech maker. I will be called up because I get a silver bowl from the Mayor and the Chief Marshal hat. I would normally just say, 'Thank you very much.  I enjoy this position and I hope to see you all at the parade.' However, I consider it an honor to have Michael as my Co-Chief Marshal.  Mike Leahy and I were good friends and Mike and I go way back, worked on the Billboard Committee together so we spent many, many volunteer hours together.

Reporter: How long have you been involved with Dorchester Day events?

Chaisson: I say I've been involved in the parade committee since the 70s but actually I was involved in it long before that. In the late 30s, I used to ride with my dad in the convertible--back in those days they did a marathon before the parade. We used to ride in convertibles and we'd go along and give the runners oranges and water.  

Reporter: How was Dorchester Day when you were growing up? What was the first Dorchester Day that you remember like?

Chaisson: It was a nice day. It was D-Day. You got up and went to church and you came home and ate and you couldn't wait until 1 o'clock and you know the parade was starting. And you had to get out there to get up front and back in those days the crowd used to be five or six people deep. It was great.

Reporter: What does a Chief Marshal do, in your words?

Chaisson: (Chuckles) As far as I can see, not too much. It's an honorary position for an honorary character…. The Chief Marshal position was started because the parade is military and it was started to honor a veteran who was active in the community, active on the Committee [Dorchester Day Parade Committee]…Committee involvement means a lot.   

Reporter: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your commitment to Dorchester?

Chaisson: (Chuckles) I don't know how to even approach that. How do you talk about yourself without having an ego like Donald Trump? I think commitment is instilled in me. My mother was a very outgoing person and my dad died very young, I was actually 13 years old when he passed away, so I lost my dad really early… I kind of relied on my mother for my upbringing. Her being an outgoing person I think it just fell off unto me and I've always been that type of person. When I get involved in something, if I believe in it and I like it, I go full range. I don't just join something and sit in the room and listen. I got involved in the Senior Salute Committee and I got involved with them back in the late 80s and went on to take it over completely in 1993 and I've been running it ever since.

Reporter: What keeps you interested in civic affairs, like the Dorchester Day Parade Committee that you have been involved since the 1970s?

Chaisson: You always like to feel like you're making your community a better place to live…I try not to do things for my own individual basis. I try to do things in an overall scope. I think I'm noted for the fact that if I'm at meetings and what have you when I get up to speak I always speak community-wise. I don't speak Joe Chaisson-wise. I try not to be selfish in what I do.

Reporter: What's one thing you think people might be surprised to know about you?

Chaisson: Probably what people would never realize or believe about me is that I'm not as hardcore as I seem. Well, I have a softness as well as anyone else I just don't show it when I'm involved in civic activities or at meetings or what have you. I don't hesitate to speak my mind…I try not to hurt people, but I know I do. I open my mouth. I always stick my foot in it 'cause I'm never politically correct. The first thing I tell people is, 'Hey, I'm not politically correct so don't even expect me to be. I'm too damn old to be politically correct.'

Reporter: What does the parade mean for Dorchester?

Chaisson: I think the parade committee overall and the parade itself is Dorchester pride. It's an honor for anybody in Dorchester to be in the parade. It's always something to look forward to be in. I always did as general chairman of the celebrations committee and now I'm in it again as the honorary position of Chief Marshal.

 Reporter: How does it feel to actually lead the parade this year?

Chaisson: It's good. It's an honor. I've put in a lot of years, a lot of work into the parade and it's kind of an honor now just to not have to work and just ride down the street in the convertible and wave to everybody and what have you. It's quite a thrill.