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From Mickey Mouse to Sandra Day O'Connor: Rose Parade grand marshal picks are never predictable

Chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall holds a football after being named as the  grand marshal of Pasadena's 2013 Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif. on Wed. April 25,2012. The Tournament of Roses announced the honor Wednesday in a ceremony where Goodall greeted well-wishers with the kind of chimpanzee call that can be heard in Tanzania's Gombe National Park. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Nick Ut/AP
Jane Goodall holds a football after being named grand marshal of Pasadena's 2013 Rose Parade.

The grand marshal for tomorrow’s Rose Parade is the famous chimpanzee researcher Jane Goodall.

Why Goodall? Here’s how the process works: each year, a different person serves as president of the Tournament of Roses parade. And that person gets to choose the grand marshal.

This year’s president, Sally Bixby,  thought Goodall’s work with chimps in Africa fit nicely with the theme of the 2013 parade: “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

Plus, Bixby had a connection. 

“A neighbor of ours happened to know her personally and so she called her assistant and that kind of opened the door and... she said yes," said Bixby.

Because each year’s parade president gets to pick the grand marshal, the choices have been all over the map.

In 2005, it was Mickey Mouse. The year after that, the choice couldn't have been more different: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

That's just the way it is with the Rose Parade.

“There have been some where you just say ‘who is this person?’ Or ‘that person does not really have what you think of in a grand marshal,” said Laura Monteros, a local writer who has worked as a parade volunteer for many years.

Take for example, Kermit the Frog in 1996. Kermit was the first non human named grand marshal.  Kids loved it, but some grownups thought it was a bit odd not to have a real person. Everyone had pretty much gotten over that by the time Mickey got selected in 2005.

More serious protests broke out in 1992, when the tournament chose a descendant of Christopher Columbus to be grand marshal.   Native Americans denounced the selection as a celebration of genocide.

“Poor folks down at the tournament did not even realize the outcry that that would cause," remembered Monteros. " I think that was a wakeup moment - that they had kind of disconnected from the community.”  

The tournament sought to make amends by adding a second grand marshal: Native American Congressman Ben Nighthorse Campbell. Some Indians and Latinos still staged protests during that year’s parade.   

With Jane Goodall perched in the grand marshal’s car tomorrow, organizers expect the 2013 version of the Rose Parade to go off without a hitch.