CHICAGO CALLING: Hometown hero who has the 'plumb' job at Windy City St Patrick's parade

“The plumber protects the health of our nation.” Albert Einstein 1954. 

Hizzoner Mayor Richard J. Daley asked his childhood friend Stephen Bailey, Business Manager of the Plumbers Union, to sponsor the official Chicago parade the year Einstein came off with that famous aphorism. Bailey liked it so much that he told the mayor, “The plumbers will sponsor this parade…forever.”

Two years later in 1956, Plumbers Local 130 UA took over sponsorship of Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and this 12 March will be celebrating their 68th year in charge of turning the river green and bedecking the city in shamrock. 

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In 1976 Jim Coyne (James F. Coyne) started his apprenticeship with Local 130 in Chicago as a plumber. He was just a kid, out of St. Alphonsus parish and Gordon Tech HS. His late father James J. Coyne was also a plumber and in 2012 Jim was elected Business Manager of Local 130.

Under Jim Coyne’s leadership, they’ve taken Chicago’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade to a whole new level of excellence, with over 100 units of marchers, floats, and dancers, 17 marching bands this year from all over the country, more than 200 parade marshals, millions of spectators celebrating their ethnic pride in person, or watching the ABC-TV live broadcast. It’s a great day to be Irish!

Jim & Michele Coyne

Jim & Michele Coyne

The annual parade is now the pinnacle of our high holy days in Chicago, taking place over several months starting in late January with the parade queen contest and the Plumbers annual corned beef and cabbage fundraiser. 

Parade day begins early this coming Saturday, (March 11), with the legendary dying of the Chicago River green.

Crowds form all along the river early Saturday to watch the boats distribute the environmentally friendly “secret sauce” to turn the Chicago River a brilliant emerald-green color that lasts through the weekend. “It started back in the days with the Butler and Rowan family, and they’re still involved. There are dye boats and chaser boats,” explains Jim. 

2016 River Dyeing

2016 River Dyeing

The dye goes in as an orange color and the chaser boats stir it up and the river runs bright green. 

After the river is prepped, it’s off to morning mass at Old St. Pat’s Parish and then a 12:30pm step-off on Columbus Drive. The front line of the parade is notoriously a scrum by politicians pushing for the limelight, and this year might mean mayhem as the Mayoral race heads into a run-off in April.

The parade has always been the epitome of hard nose politics, just like our city, and as Jim tells me, “plumbers are political, because we have to be!”

2023 Grand Marshall is Tim Drea, President of the AFL-CIO, in recognition of his support of the Workers’ Rights Amendment. Guest of Honor is Cllr Danny Collins, Mayor of County Cork and Bantry pub owner, who brings with him 16 dignitaries from County Cork, including Derry Cronin from Specialized Travel. 

Coyne Family

Coyne Family

The Queen of the parade, Her Majesty Casey Doherty, wins a free trip to Ireland and according to Coyne the people of County Cork “always roll out the red carpet for our Queen.”

Right before the start of the 2004 parade, Jim Coyne met his wife Michele at Plumber’s Hall. “She was here with her girlfriend; her dad was a retired plumber living in Arizona. We always give our members something to wear, a shirt, scarf or hat. That day we were giving away green hats. And she came back in line, and she’s very attractive, and she asked me for another hat, and I said, ‘didn’t I give you a hat already? And she said, ‘yes you did, but this is for my dad.’ I said, well these are really for the members that are coming today, but if I have any leftovers, I’ll find you on the parade route…So I quickly stashed a couple on the side and I hooked up with her on the parade route and I like to say, ‘the rest is history!’”

How did he find her in that mass of people? “That was easy, she’s a beautiful blonde!”

With all the events of Paddy’s Day, The Irish Fellowship Club holds their annual dinner at the Hilton on Friday night, and the Southside celebrates with their own parade on Sunday, and a myriad of receptions, parties, and hooleys, the weekend can be daunting. But Jim says, “I caution people, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

2022 LU 130 125th Anniversary (5)

2022 LU 130 125th Anniversary (5)

“We, the plumbers, are honored and grateful that we can provide such a phenomenal experience for all of Chicago in our sixty-eighth year of sponsoring this parade and we work our tails off to make Chicago proud.”

Proud indeed, Jimmy!