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Parade Spotlight On Rich

A face long behind the scenes will moveinto the spotlight during this year’s annual Christmas parade.

    Rita Rich has served for approximately 19 years as the chairpersonof the Christmas parade but this year is stepping down from thatleadership role.

    She won’t be absent from the parade, though. Rich has been namedgrand marshal of the 2011 parade in honor of her long years ofservice to the annual holiday event, which is scheduled for Dec.1.

    “Oh, wow. I did not expect that,” Rich said upon hearing the newsWednesday.

    Her 19 years or so have been years of dedication.

    “When I decided to do it I put my whole heart in it,” Rich said. “Ilove a parade.”

    As grand marshal, Rich will ride at the front of the parade. Tofurther honor Rich the parade’s theme, “A Storybook Christmas,”sits close to Rich’s passion: education.

    “Education has been Rita’s life,” said Kay Burton,Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce program director.”She believes in reading.”

    Rich worked in education for more than 41 years, most of that timein Mississippi, but also in Louisiana.

    Rich has done so much for so long with the parade it will take twopeople to replace her this year. George Laird and Celine Craig willserve as co-chairpersons of the parade this year.

    The parade is not new to Laird. For about two years he has servedas Rich’s assistant. Problems with Rich’s knees have decreased hermobility in years past.

    “It was the legs,” Laird said, referring to his time as Rich’sassistant.

    His parade experience goes back further than that, though. He hashelped with lineup before the parade, and when he worked forWal-Mart he helped to design their parade floats.

    There are close to 25-30 floats in the parade every year.

    Rich said the condition of the economy affects how many floatsthere are. Some years there have been 40 or more floats, Richsaid.

    The parade draws large crowds. There were around 10,000 peopledowntown for last year’s parade, Burton said.

    “The parade is a fun time for the community,” Laird said.

    Laird has plans for a “bigger, better” parade.

    He wants to encourage small businesses to join together to sponsora band or float. In particular, he would like to see bands fromschools in surrounding counties or colleges able to come.

    Rich approves of Laird’s interest in expanding the musicaloptions.

    “To me, music makes the parade,” Rich said.

    Laird also aims to have parade floats stick closer to the themethan they have in years past.

    Rich still remembers the first year she was named parade chair. Shewas asked to come down to the Chamber of Commerce office.

    “When I got here they ganged up on me,” Rich said laughing. “When Ileft, I was chair of the parade.”

    There was not much for Rich to build on. Rich created all the formsand documents currently used by the parade organizers when shebegan. She said there was “nothing” when she began.

    After all those years, though, she doesn’t regret passingleadership of the parade on.

    “It is time for a change,” she said.