Friday Feature . . .


 Attorneys are ‘Distinguished Clowns’ in America’s Thanksgiving Parade in Detroit

By Sheila Pursglove 
Legal News

Employment attorney Linda Burwell has happy memories of her father taking her to the Thanksgiving parade in Detroit when she was a child. 

“I remember the excitement of the brief interactions like a smile or a wave from people in the parade,” she says. “I never thought I’d be a Distinguished Clown and be able to be on the other side.”

Burwell, president of National Employment Counsel, PLLC in Pleasant Ridge, and her husband Richard Saslow, general counsel and CAO at Vineyard Capital Group, are members of the Distinguished Clown Corps, a group of corporate and community leaders who contribute for the opportunity to trade business attire for clown suits and make the grand march down Woodward Avenue in downtown Detroit. 

“A good friend of ours has done it for years,” says Burwell, now in her fifth year as a clown. “Like many things, she talked and talked about it and encouraged me to do it with her. I never thought Richard, who hates costumes, would ever want to do this, let alone love doing this.” 

“As a kid I enjoyed the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York but never imagined being a participant,” says Saslow, who took part in Thursday’s parade for a fourth year.

The couple is following in the footsteps of business leaders such as Tom Adams, then chief of Campbell-Ewald, and Walter McCarthy, then chief of Detroit Edison, who helped create a way for community leaders to become personally involved in helping The Parade Company. Over the years, more than 2,000 clowns have joined the fun, passing out candy, smiles, and beads. The Distinguished Clown Corps is supported by the Junior Jesters.

Thanksgiving Day starts bright and early for Distinguished Clowns, who gather with their families around 6 a.m. at the Downtown Y in Detroit for breakfast, makeup, photos and staging. 

“The Parade Company does a great job of hosting the event,” Saslow says. “There’s great food, music, lots of kids and a great team of makeup artists that apply the clown faces to the hundred-plus clowns. So it’s a family event, getting up early, driving downtown in the dark, breakfast, coffee, makeup, camaraderie, seeing many good friends, and then hopping on the bus to the parade starting point.”

The duo enjoys donning clown costumes, colorful boots and wigs, and having their clown makeup done. 

“The Parade Company does a beautiful job and custom makes each costume for the Distinguished Clowns,” Burwell says. “It’s an adventure in itself just getting it made, from picking out the material, and so on. The first five years, the costumes are half white. After five years, they are half gold, after 10 they are half silver, and so on. Many people pick themed costumes — they sport professional sports teams, collegiate sports teams, Detroit themes. You name it — it’s there!”

Distinguished Clowns walk as a group, waving to kids and handing out strings of beads, with a lot of individual interaction with children along the route. A float accompanies the Distinguished Clowns to replenish the supply of beads, as each clown hands out hundreds. 

“The interactions with the kids, especially the little ones, is what makes the event for us,” Burwell says. “To see the great smiles, the wide, bright eyes, and excitement in the kids is just wonderful.”

The couple has experienced all kinds of weather, from cold, blustery and snowy to mild and sunny. 

“Actually the cold days are better, as you’re all bundled up and very active, walking and jogging along for the mile or so of the parade route” Burwell says. “I suppose heavy rain would be the worst but we haven’t seen that.” 

The Parade has become a family Thanksgiving tradition for Burwell and Saslow, and they look forward to it each year. 

“It’s a great way to give a little back to the community, participate in a great Detroit tradition, and, especially, to enjoy seeing the happiness and wonder in the eyes of all the kids along Woodward Avenue,” Saslow says. “That’s what it makes it so special.”