URI Professor Emeritus Scott Molloy to serve as grand marshal of Providence St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Irish, labor historian to lead March 10 event

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Scott Molloy
URI Professor Emeritus Scott Molloy wears a sash proclaiming him the grand marshal for this year’s Providence St. Patrick’s Day Parade March 10. URI photo by Brandon Fuller.

KINGSTON, R.I. — February 23, 2018 — He is a former bus driver and head of the transit union, a Carnegie Foundation Rhode Island Professor of the Year, a University of Rhode Island Foundation Teaching Excellence Award winner, a member of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, author of several books on Irish and labor history and education director of the Providence Irish Famine Memorial.

In just a few weeks, Scott Molloy, professor emeritus of labor and industrial relations at URI’s Schmidt Labor Research Center, will add grand marshal of the Providence St. Patrick’s Day Parade to his lengthy and distinguished resume.

The March 10 event, which runs from noon to 2 p.m. along Smith Street, will give Molloy an opportunity to celebrate with hundreds along the parade route his favorite subject–the contributions of the Irish to Rhode Island and the nation.

Molloy, who retired in 2016 after 30 years of teaching at URI, was chosen by the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee for his longtime service to Irish causes in Rhode Island. As the education director for the $1 million Irish Famine Memorial, on the Providence riverwalk, he served as master of ceremonies for the dedication of the park and monuments in 2007. Last year, he was deputy grand marshal of the parade, delivering the annual St. Patrick’s Day address to the Providence City Council. He will be the keynote speaker this year at the parade committee’s annual banquet at the Rhode Island Convention Center March 1 at 6 p.m.

As part of the celebration, this year’s parade ad book will contain 25 essays and graphics on Irish history. Molloy wrote some of the essays and edited the others.

Molloy also wrote two seminal books on Rhode Island Irish and labor history. The first, “Trolley Wars, Streetcar Workers on the Line,” is an intimate look at streetcar workers during the Rhode Island Transit Strike of 1902. The second, “Irish Titan, Irish Toilers,” chronicles the life of Joseph Bannigan, the first Irish Catholic millionaire in Rhode Island, who founded the Woonsocket Rubber Co. during the Gilded Age. He eventually became the president of the U.S. Rubber Co., now known as Uniroyal.

Molloy donated 100 boxes of labor, transit and Irish memorabilia, much of it dating back to the earliest days of the labor movement in Rhode Island, to the Carothers Library and Learning Commons at URI. And true to form, he added a $10,000 cash donation, mostly from union contributors, so the library would have the funds to properly catalog the materials.

But his reach extends well beyond Rhode Island. More than two decades ago, the Smithsonian Institution acquired 10,000 pieces of Molloy’s materials for the Scott Molloy Labor Collection, which still exists today.

“Irish and labor history are very much intertwined,” said Molloy, whose immigrant grandfather operated a trolley out of the very same Elmwood Avenue facility from which Molloy operated his bus. “From the day I opened my mouth to talk, I found that I enjoyed it. I used the blarney to build the bus drivers’ union and spoke wherever I could, at URI, historical societies and schools.

“Every night, I so looked forward to teaching the next day at URI,” Molloy said. “I don’t think I missed more than two days in 30 years of teaching.”

But he and education didn’t always go together, his missteps causing more than just concern for his father, a Providence Police officer and his mother, a teacher at Mount Pleasant High School in Providence.

“I was thrown out of three high schools, Classical, Bishop Hendricken and Hope,” he said. As a professor at URI, “on the first day of classes, I often showed my Hendricken report card with Fs strewn across it to my graduate students. I told them ‘If I could do it, you can do it’,”

A Rhode Island College graduate, with a master’s degree from the University of New Hampshire and a doctorate from Providence College, Molloy drove the bus while earning his Ph.D.

“For a period of 10 years, I’d dress up as Jackie Gleason’s bus-driver character, Ralph Kramden, just to get a few chuckles out of my students.”

No longer in the classroom full time, Molloy still makes guest appearances in URI classes, and he is on the board of the Heritage Harbor Foundation, where he helps distribute $10,000- to $15,000-grants to deserving historic groups.

“I am as involved as I have ever been,” Molloy said. “But there is no alternative. You still need some causes to spark your enthusiasm. I am in my office at URI every day, and try to help our graduate students any way I can.”