Robert Shannon Jr., 71, of Blackwood, the legendary Mummer known as “the ambassador” who was the captain of the Quaker City String Band for 37 years, died on Monday, March 4, just a day after marching in a St. Patrick’s Day parade.
Mr. Shannon was born and raised in Philadelphia. His last appearance as a Mummer, with his trademark smile and enthusiasm, was with his award-winning string band at the parade in Gloucester City, close to his home in Camden County, said Harry Brown, the string band’s president.
“He was the world’s most famous Mummer,” Brown said. He traveled across the United States, and went to Spain and to Ireland, to march in a St. Patrick’s Day parade there. “He loved to make friends, and he loved to make people smile,” Brown said.
Mr. Shannon’s wife, Susan, said she met her husband 25 years ago, when she worked at the barbershop where he got his hair cut. They were married nearly 23 years.
“He was a wonderful family man,” Susan Shannon said.
In recent years, she said, Mr. Shannon ushered for the Phillies. “He would look up at the sky and say, ‘Pop, they’re paying me to watch the Phillies.'”
Mr. Shannon worked for 40 years as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense in Philadelphia, his wife said.
Mr. Shannon was a 1966 Darby-Colwyn High School graduate and earned a business degree from the University of Delaware, his family said. At that time, he was a drum major for the Eagles’ marching band, the Sound of Brass, said his brother Jack.
After going to sleep after midnight, his wife said, Mr. Shannon died of an apparent stroke. He had suffered two previous strokes that forced him to retire as captain in 2008, she said.
When Mr. Shannon retired from the Mummers, it ended an era for a man who, at 6-foot-10, could not be missed, friends said. He had participated in parades since he was 11, playing sax and following in the footsteps of his father, a longtime member of Quaker City.
At 23, he became captain of Quaker City, becoming only the second person to hold the position since the group was created in 1931. He was known to Mummers and fans alike as an outstanding performer who engaged his audience on New Year’s Day, wearing elaborate costumes whether the group’s theme was hillbillies, scarecrows, or “Reflections of Old Moscow.”
“Bob was just one of those people everyone admired. When he marched down the street, he was iconic,” said Joe “Asti” Pomante, who performs in the Durning String Band. “He was bigger than life.”
He was known for his quick change of spectacular costumes during performances that were minutes long. During the Mummers Parade in 1999, he wore three different costumes for that year’s Moscow theme. He first emerged as Russian royalty, surrounded by feathers and red and gold sequins head to toe. While Mr. Shannon was dancing before the judges, there was the slightest bit of snow and a gentle wind when confetti was shot into the air, and it swirled around him as if he were in a snow globe, said Steve Highsmith, longtime anchor of parade TV coverage. Quaker City won first place that year, the beginning of a four-year first-place streak.
The Fralinger String Band, which also had four consecutive wins, was a major rival in competitions, said George Badey, who plays sax for that club. During the four years that Quaker City won, Badey said, his club came in second until it regained the title in 2003. Mr. Shannon was a fierce rival, but always a gentleman, Badey said.
Under Mr. Shannon’s leadership, Quaker City won the top honor nine times. Captains are also judged for their performance, and Mr. Shannon won first place in that category seven times, said Badey, a Mummers historian.
As memorable as Mr. Shannon was on the parade route, he was also well known for mediating conflicts and showing compassion. When Badey’s son was hospitalized about 15 years ago, Mr. Shannon told Badey there were 100 Mummers ready to donate blood if needed.
“Bob Shannon lived a life of wonder. He spread so much happiness around,” Badey said. “He had a life well lived, and we’re going to miss him terribly.”
In addition to his wife and brother, Mr. Shannon is survived by children Christopher, Nadine Hickman, Danielle Fetter, and Andrea Rivell, and his former wife, Georgean Krips.
Visitation will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday, March 11, and 8 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 12, at the Murphy Ruffenach Brian W. Donnelly Funeral Home, 2237 S. Third St. Burial will be at Resurrection of Christ Cemetery, Bellmawr.