Looking out at the crowd, Laura Farber took in the sight and sounds of the 2020 Rose Parade, feeling the high energy, and thought, “This is unbelievably amazing.”
More than two weeks removed from America’s New Year Celebration, Farber, the departing president of the Tournament of Roses, won’t soon forget January 1 when she and her family rode down Colorado Boulevard over 5-1/2 miles in a 1911 Rolls Royce blanketed with roses.
Behind her were members the Alhambra Unified School District Marching Band and in front rolled South Pasadena’s award-winning float – “Victory At Last” – constructed entirely by volunteers.
It was by design.
Farber is a proud graduate of Alhambra High School and makes her home in South Pasadena.
“When I first saw members of the band, they were all jumping and waving,” said a smiling Farber as the unit fell into place at the parade’s staging area. “We were saying hi to each other. In the moment, I was so happy. My kids were with me, my husband, and my family…We were all feeling the joy. It was just a great time.”
On board, sat Farber, joined by her husband, Tomás Lopez, their children Christopher and Jessica Lopez, and her parents Sergio and Debora Farber.
“I wanted to be high up,” explained Farber, positioned in the backseat of the vehicle. “I really wanted to be in a place where I could see.”
On her way down the parade route, Farber listened to the lively chants: “We love Laura, We love Laura,” noting many in the crowd resonated with the theme – The Power of Hope – as she waved to the crowd.
“It was so impactful for so many,” she said. “What I like about it is that it sent such a positive message, bringing the community together at a time when we’re divide as a country and as a world. With hope – anything, in fact, everything is possible. Hope is more than simply the possibility of fulfillment. Hope is dignity and respect, joy and happiness, aspiration and achievement. Hope never, ever quits. Through hope, we can aspire to be our best, and in turn inspire those around us to reach higher.”
And she felt the connection behind the theme every inch of the way down the parade route, taking in the excitement, waving to those perched from windows in tall buildings to those seated in the grandstands and others bundled up, seated in lawn chairs and on curbs fighting off the early morning chill.
“People were saying, ‘We love what you’ve done. We love that you brought the entire community into it,’” Farber said. “That was so special to have that feeling of ‘we’re all here today, we’re focused on the good, the togetherness, the love, the things we have in common, a day to celebrate.’ This theme was very timely because people wanted something good. It really touched people. That’s what was so beautiful.”
In a way, she added, “It felt like a big hug.”
There were “tons of people everywhere along the parade,” Farber enthused. “It was unbelievable nonstop excitement. I loved it.”
Farber heard what so many saw – grand marshals Rita Moreno, Gina Torres and Laurie Hernandez enjoying the day seated in their vintage cars.
Moreno, and Torres, both actresses and Laurie Hernandez, who earned Olympic gold and silver medals as a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Women’s Gymnastics Team, all “epitomize hope,” Farber said. “Through their talent, efforts, persistence, and dedication, they have achieved excellence and have given back to the world stories of hope, dreams fulfilled, dignity, respect and inspiration. Every aspect of what they have done has been incredible.”
The day was described as “gloriously spectacular,” Farber expressing her exhilaration in learning the City of South Pasadena float won the Mayor Award, going to the most outstanding float from a participating city. It marked the second straight year the city earned the high honor. “Victory At Last,” South Pasadena’s entry, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.
“I want to thank the South Pasadena community for their incredible support and the South Pasadena Tournament of Roses Committee for their outstanding float,” said Farber. “It was very special and the world saw it. They ran with the theme, did it so well, and I just couldn’t be any more proud.”
All six self-built floats in the parade – entries constructed by volunteers – earned awards and praise from the Tournament of Roses president. “They all deserved it,” insisted Farber. “I’m so proud at what the self-builts did. For South Pasadena to embrace that theme, it ended up spectacular…the float, the message, the way they did it was just beautiful. The variety of flowers, the red-white-and-blue bunting, the large hat, buttons, ribbons, the pen and scroll…I couldn’t believe the detail. It was really phenomenal, impressive.”
Looking back over the past year in the role as president, Farber summed up the experience saying it was “glorious, amazing–from the reveal of the theme, the band visits, meeting the kids in their communities, sharing the impact of all that we do, going through the Royal Court process, to a great parade and Rose Bowl Game. It was just an incredible time.”
With Bob Miller, her successor, now serving as president of the Tournament of Roses, Farber, fulfilling her one-year reign, immediately becomes the past president and will chair the Rose Bowl Management Committee, a high-ranking position on the football side. Highly involved in Rose Bowl Game operations, she will focus on the game’s polices, ticket prices, working with the commissioners and athletic directors from the participating conferences while taking on a multitude of other key assignments.
Professionally, Farber is a partner in the Pasadena law firm of Hahn & Hahn, where she practices civil litigation, placing an emphasis on employment disputes.
“Obviously, my involvement with the firm was a little bit reduced last year,” she said, looking forward to a different lifestyle ahead of her. “It had to be with my role as president and all the travel. I’ll spend more time with my family and live in the moment.”
For the moment, however, Farber is still basking in the glory of leading 935 volunteers, serving as only the third female Tournament of Roses president and the first Latina to hold the prestigious position.
“It was an incredible honor,” she said, reflecting on the past year. “I felt very responsible. I owed it to all our organizational folks to do them proud, to be a solid representative, a good spokesperson and show the world that our membership and leadership is beginning to reflect the beautiful diversity of our communities. That was really important to me. I think we showed the world that we’re much more than a parade and a game. We’re doing things for the community throughout the year.”
Her duties began early in 2019 when the Tournament teamed with the Pasadena MLK Community Coalition and the City of Pasadena in celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday, including the awarding of cash scholarships to winners of a student essay and art contest.
Further, Farber recognized players from both Oregon and Wisconsin – opponents in the 106th Rose Bowl Game – with the highest GPA. She also supported efforts to increase scholarship funding for high school students through the Tournament of Roses Foundation. Since 1983, when it was first established, the Foundation has awarded more than $3 million to more than 200 organizations.
A youth empowerment forum, #ThisGen2019, hosted by the Tournament last May, featured speakers ranging from Google executives to television executives to Olympic athletes, designed to inspire young people to reach for the stars, pushing them to overcome obstacles, to pursue their hopes and dreams.
A scholarship in honor of the late Keith Jackson, who coined the phrase “Granddaddy of Them all” in describing the Rose Bowl Game, was established to provide financial support to Pac-13 and Big Ten students showing an interest in a sports related career.
Also under Farber’s watch, Royal Court scholarships were increased from $2,500 to $7,500 this year “which is more in tune to help meet the need of college tuition,” said the president.
Among those on the Court, was Cole Fox, a senior at South Pasadena High who was joined on a floral masterpiece covered in Roses, sitting alongside Princesses Emilie Risha, Rukan Salf, Reese Rosental Saporito, Mia Thorsen, Michael Wilkins and Rose Queen Camille Kennedy.
“They’re all prepared to face the world,” admired Farber, talking about the Royal Court. “They’re so together, they’re so articulate, bright, intelligent, have so much dignity and respect, the way they carry themselves. It’s such a source of pride for us to have such wonderful representatives. They are our ambassadors and do it so well and bond as a group. Each one them are special, unique, and I feel fortunate because we have spent a lot of time together and have built wonderful relationships with all of them. They are confident, have great self-esteem, speak beautifully, and we are so proud of them.”
She calls Fox, South Pasadena’s hometown young representative on the Court, “a sparkplug of beauty and energy. She’s special and a wonderful representative.”
The dawning of a new year, the rush of the parade and game, its historical significance are all part of the New Year’s Day spectacle in Pasadena.
“We do it in a very unique way,” said Farber, when asked to wrap her arms on why the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game mean so much to so many. “I think when people have experienced it firsthand, it’s something that stays with them forever. Everywhere I’ve traveled since I’ve been on the journey for the past 26 years, when people see the rose on whatever I’m wearing, I hear: ‘I’ve been to the game,’ or ‘I’ve been to the parade’ or ‘my sister or my brother or my cousin have played in one of the bands.’ There’s a real connection to what we’ve built. It’s one of those brands that everyone knows about. It just has tentacles everywhere, reaching so many people all over the world, and I think people associate hope, joy, happiness with what we do and want to feel it.”
A major force behind its success are the hundreds of individuals wearing white suits and buck white shoes known simply as the “White Suiters.”
“They’re positive, wonderful souls,” explained Farber. “They’re all in it for the right reasons, give deeply and want to bring that joy to everything they do. It’s authenticity. We all love these series of events and what the Tournament stands for, especially now because it didn’t always be like this in terms of inclusivity. It has really evolved into something beautiful.”
And to ride past the cheers of an enthusiastic crowd along the parade route, sandwiched between the float representing her hometown and Alhambra High musicians, bringing back memories of high school, was an unforgettable moment in time.
“That was very personal to my family, and we were so proud to have the South Pasadena float ahead of us and the Alhambra band behind us,” she said of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “It was special day.”