by Laura Berthold Monteros
“Local boy makes good” is an old adage that implies a person has made a success of himself. To Brad Ratliff, Tournament of Roses Association president for the 2016-2017 term, success for an individual includes the people and organizations—echoes—who have aided or inspired him. His choice of a theme for the 2017 Rose Parade, “Echoes of Success,” celebrates those people who help to form each person. The Rose Examiner talked with him about those echoes in his life in an interview at Tournament House.
He said that as he rose up the ranks of the Tournament to oversee the 128th Rose Parade and 103 Rose Bowl Game, he knew that his choice of theme would always include success, but “The echoes part came quite circumstantially.” A UCLA graduate, he “lived and breathed John Wooden,” the legendary basketball coach. He quoted Wooden: “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
“Wooden’s definition of success makes it unique to everyone,” he said. “Teachers, nurses, parents, PTA…those are the echoes.” It was his own mother who inspired the complete phrase. He and his wife Susan purchased a paving brick to honor his mother as part of the Rose Bowl Legacy campaign. The bricks form a rose on the plaza in front of the stadium. Her brick is inscribed “Shari Ratliff, Her Life Echoes Success. 1999, 2017.” As his family discussed and rejected various themes, “Echoes of Success” emerged. “It pays tribute to Mom,” he said.
The influence of his father, Dick E. Ratliff, who served as Tournament president for the 1999 events, reverberates, too. The theme the elder Ratliff chose was “Echoes of the Century,” reflecting the closing of the 20th century. Ratliff shared, “He’s been a great mentor and a good, good friend to me. I admired him my entire life…. I really want this to be about what we’ve done. We’ve done so much together.” He added, “Dad saw an echo of Mom in ‘Echoes of Success’”
“There have been seven previous father/son presidents,” he said. “I don’t think any have had the chance to go through it together.” Ratliff has asked his father to participate in the events and rituals with him. His father placed the red jacket, the emblem of the presidency, on him at his installation. This is usually done by the past president, so he asked Mike Matthiessen first. “He was fine with it,” Ratliff said. They shared a room at the annual Tournament of Roses retreat, and when the poster for the 128th Rose Parade is displayed, the one from the 110th will be there, too.
Of course, there were others who influenced him. “Certainly my wife,” he said, “in so many ways. As a spouse, but more importantly, as my partner.” His stepmother, also named Susan, added a new dimension to his life, he said. She taught him to be a little more adventurous and to appreciate his experiences. He said, “She brought to our family a kind of fun, a different fun…. I guess each of the echoes of our success brings a different dynamic.”
Besides family, the third-generation John Muir High School graduate looks back to the educators who inspired him. “‘Echoes of Success’ really started with the music teachers I had,” he said. “They are really echoes of my success.” He met his wife in the music program at Eliot Middle School, and continues to play trumpet and ukulele. He still attends the annual Turkey Tussle, the homecoming football match between Muir and Pasadena High School, where he and other alums sit in with the marching band. He hopes to become an echo for kids in the Muir music program.
“When I’m done with the Tournament of Roses, I want to go back to Muir,” he said, noting that Pasadena Unified School District music is not at the level it was when he was a student. He mentioned how generously public school music is supported with funds and parent participation in the Midwest and South, and how that is reflected in the bands that march in the Rose Parade. Though he is not yet sure on the form it would take, he is committed to helping the programs succeed.
Like the 2015 theme “Inspiring Stories,” “Echoes of Success” doesn’t seem to immediately lend itself to telling a story in the brief time a float moves in front of a viewer, but like “Inspiring Stories,” it has potential to nudge people to reflect on meaningful influences in their own lives. That parade saw a range of ideas from the humorous “Little Engine That Could” to breast cancer survivors paddling dragonboats and a tribute to Grand Marshal Louis Zamperini from his hometown of Torrance. His choice for Grand Marshal, which is still under wraps, will be a person who is a good representative of the theme, he said, someone who is known for helping others.
“It’s a tough theme. I get that,” Ratliff said, and he wants the designers to show their creativity. “I want the builders to create things they think are great.” He mentioned the good job KTLA does with its pre-parade shows and focus on parade entries in the weeks before the Rose Parade, but, he said, “What we don’t do is stories that bring people together.” We spoke of the excitement generated among fans who shared their stories around the 2015 theme. “I hope ‘Echoes of Success’ will drive that, too,” he said.
The 2017 parade will have a special, last-minute (by Rose Parade standards) addition. Barbara Cocks, whose company Huerta Quorum put on the pre-parade festival Live on Green, called Ratliff to ask if the Air Force Band could join the parade to celebrate its 75th anniversary. The number of bands is limited and they are confirmed a year-and-a-half before the parade, so the USAF was something of a Johnny-come-lately. Ratliff spoke with the Parade Policy Committee, and they approved the unusual request. “I have a deep, deep appreciation for all the armed forces,” he said, adding that he prays daily for the men and women serving our country.
Despite achieving a position only 110 people have held in the past 128 years, Ratliff is modest and a bit sentimental. At our interview, he wore a pair well-maintained vintage Spalding saddle shoes, which his dad bought 30 years ago, a pair in black for himself and one in brown for Brad. He joked that sometimes he and his father will show up for an event dressed alike—khakis, a blue shirt, and saddle shoes.
As president, he is given special brass buttons for his red jackets (one for summer, one for winter), but he has elected to use regular buttons instead, except for the Rose Parade. When he cruises along Colorado Blvd. on Jan. 2, he will be wearing the buttons that belonged to Del Beckhart (1994). Beckhart passed away in the summer of 1993. Beckhart’s widow Helen asked Ratliff if he would wear Del’s buttons, since her husband never got the chance.
He says, “I’m a regular guy. I just got lucky. A blessed guy. The last 28 years in this organization have been a blast.”