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McGowan starts 250th parade with late partner's whistle

By Peter McDermott

When Sergeant Raymond McGowan blew the whistle to start the 250th New York St. Patrick's Day Parade he had a list of people on his mind. Top of it were two Irish immigrants who he knows would have been very proud of him.

"It would have been nice if my parents had been there to see it," he said afterwards about the County Sligo-born James McGowan and the former Elizabeth Heaphy, who was from County Kerry.

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"I think that they were there in spirit," he said of the couple, who both died in the late 1990s.

McGowan also remembered on last Thursday the parents of his wife Mary, who is from Cloone, Co. Leitrim.

Next was his late friend Jimmy Fox, his first partner when he was a rookie cop almost 30 years ago. Fox, who was the son of parents from Leitrim and Westmeath, served for 40 years in the New York Police Department before his retirement 10 years ago. "The whistle I blew belonged to Jimmy," he said of his former colleague who died recently after battling cancer.

The NYPD sergeant had a moment, too, for Detective Garda Gerry McCabe, who was killed by the IRA in 1996. He told the Kerryman newspaper last week that being in the store that was run by McCabe's parents formed some of his happiest memories from his childhood visits to the county. "He was a dear friend to all of my family in Ballylongford," he said of the murdered cop.

The large number of friends and relatives who made the trip from Ballylongford and its environs to see the New York parade this year was testament to the strong bonds that have been maintained over the decades.

When the young Elizabeth Heaphy departed the town, she was entrusted with plans for its community hall. "She gave those plans to the Kerry Association in New York City and the community in exile helped build the facility," he said.

Kevin McGowan, who served as a detective with the Waterfront Commission's police division for 28 years, said that his younger brother, a former president of the NYPD Emerald Society and a member of AOH Division 4, has kept up that commitment with his involvement with various Irish organizations.

"It's a great honor for him in the 250th year of the parade and in his 30th year as a police officer," said McGowan, whose wife Mercedes is from Tralee, Co. Kerry. "It's was a great day, a beautiful day."

The brothers' immigrant father worked as a longshoreman before becoming a transit worker. When James McGowan retired, he was chairman of TWU Local 100.

Raymond McGowan went to high school at the Irish Christian Brothers-run Power Memorial and later graduated magna cum laude from Manhattan College. The highlights of his police career include being involved in the case that led to the imprisonment of mobsters who'd previously been acquitted of the murder Detective Anthony Venditti in Queens in the 1980s. He was a detective, too, in the case that put John Gotti's son-in-law behind bars.

But for McGowan -- whose daughter Clodagh works with NY1 and son Seamus will begin at John Jay College in the fall -- blowing the whistle on March 17, 2011, will be a pretty memorable day to look back on following his planned retirement next January.

"The crowds were larger than I'd seen in many years," said Sergeant McGowan, who walked up the avenue with the board of officers of the Emerald Society. "I thought there was a great atmosphere."