By Gail McCarthy
---- — The baton for the Rockport Firemen’s Band has been passed from the hands of the now retired George Ramsden to Jennifer Fuller, who has been marching in the Fourth of July parade with the crowd-pleasing band for the past 30 years.
Ramsden was recognized by town and state officials at the Board of Selectmen meeting when he was presented with citations, and lauded for his community-building spirit and dedication as the band leader for the past 50 years.
Ramsden spent 44 years in the Rockport Public Schools as a teacher, coach, guidance counselor and director of guidance, the post from which he retired. But his town involvement goes beyond the work with the schools and the band.
“You only come across a person like George Ramsden once in a lifetime. His commitment is total,” said Paul Murphy, the selectmen’s vice chairman. “George has touched, cared about, influenced and improved many lives over the years here in Rockport and beyond. He has always stretched far beyond his job description in any undertaking he has tackled. He is one in a million and we truly are lucky to call him one of our own.”
Murphy described how the crowds would enthusiastically cheer as Ramsden passed by, often waving to get his attention to express their appreciation.
“It is what makes small-town, old-fashioned New England Fourth of July celebration a scene out a Norman Rockwell painting,” he said. “I have watched the parade at the end of Pleasant Street for years.
“And truthfully you could hear and feel the excitement when George and the band under his direction turned the corner and started heading our way,” he said. “With his signature red plunger, his tattered red nightshirt and firemen’s helmet and boots, he would lead the band to the delight of hundreds of onlookers.”
State Sen. Bruce Tarr too spoke of the “unofficial” work of Ramsden for his community building efforts that defy boundaries, and which create the spirit of good neighbors.
On his final march this Fourth of July, Ramsden only made it the first part of the parade route because he was taken to the hospital where he was treated for dehydration. Contrary to some rumors, he confirmed that this was his final march and retirement is official.
Erin Battistelli, who grew up in Rockport and now chairs the selectmen, regularly stands at Toad Hall Bookstore to view the parade with her family.
She said this year the crowd began to chant “Where’s George, where’s George?”
But a parade participant let the crowd know that Ramsden was out of the parade and that it appeared to be from heat exhaustion. Anyone in the crowd could relate to that because of the suffocating heat and humidity that day.
In an interview this week, Ramsden said he was sorry to have missed the end of the parade at the judge’s viewing stand, where he had a prank for the incoming band director. He left a bottle of water at the stand with the judges.
“My plan was that, when I got to the stand, I was going to make the announcement that Jen Fuller was going to take over and celebrate by pouring the water into the plunger,” he said. “I was going to congratulate her and celebrate the transition by taking a sip and then passing the holy grail to her to take a sip. The poor kid would have gagged.”
But Ramsden said he is thrilled that Fuller agreed to take over the post. She is the daughter of another well known local music man, Jim Davison, who retired last year from Rockport Public Schools after 24 years teaching music and directing bands in two stints of service.
Fuller is a Rockport High graduate of 1987, and a local private music teacher of piano, flute and woodwinds for about 15 years.
At the judge’s review stand this year, Davison was the one to pass the plunger to his daughter in front of the crowd.
Ramsden noted that Fuller has participated in the parade for about 30 years, as a student and an adult. This year, there were three generations of Davisons in the parade because in addition to her father, her son Ben was marching with the group.
“She takes it to heart,” said Ramsden. “And by the same token, she wants to see the tradition go on.”
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.