Pat Troy rattles off the names of famous hands he’s shaken with the same matter-of-factness that the bartenders at his well-known Irish pub in Old Town Alexandria have when reciting the draft-beer list.
Charlton Heston, the Kennedys, Pope Benedict XVI are among those that jump to his mind.
It’s an impressive list, considering Mr. Troy’s humble beginnings as a poor Irish immigrant who landed in America in the summer of 1962.
Mr. Troy, who’s owned his Ireland’s Own pub since the 1970s, considers the day President Reagan unexpectedly walked through the doors in 1988 among his most memorable moments.
“That was awesome,” Mr. Troy said, his voice growing soft. “He had the corned beef and cabbage. He asked me what was a good beer. I didn’t want to give him Guinness. I said Harp, because it’s easy.”
The two-seat table at which Reagan sat still holds a special place in the restaurant. Every morning the staff lights a candle that’s been placed at the table, and every night it’s the last light to go out.
On a recent afternoon, he gazed upon the lunch crowd seated among the photographs of smiling family members, friends and local celebrities lining the walls and considered his success.
“I guess there’s something in a person when you meet them, you get to like them,” said Mr. Troy, who still hosts a radio show after 40 years. “Pat Troy’s Irish Radio Show” can be heard at 11 a.m. Sundays on WUST 1120-AM.
“Every Sunday, when I finish my radio show, I say, ‘It’s nice to be important, but it’s much more important to be nice,’ ” Mr. Troy said.
Other notable faces that stick in Mr. Troy’s mind are actress Meredith Baxter — who was able to dine unnoticed at his pub for hours - and Catholic Archbishop of Baltimore Edwin O’Brien.
“He’s a very down-to-earth man,” Mr. Troy said of the archbishop, who at the time was an Army chaplain.
“He was the one who got me the contact to meet the Holy Father,” Mr. Troy said. “He’s a great friend and one of the most wonderful human beings.”
Virginia Democratic Rep. James P. Moran has known Mr. Troy for decades.
“What you see is what you get,” said Mr. Moran, vice mayor of Alexandria during Mr. Troy’s early years in Old Town. “He relishes being unique, and he’s very proud of his Irish Catholic heritage. This is in the old tradition of the tavern keeper being a hallmark of the community.
“He’s one of a kind. We don’t have enough of his kind anymore.”
Mr. Troy’s place in the Old Town history books began in Kilcormac, a small town in County Offaly in central Ireland.
One of three brothers in a working-class family, he dropped out of school at 13 to take a job as a farmhand.
“I didn’t like school. If you didn’t know it, you didn’t know it,” Mr. Troy said. “I did everything on the farm. It was hard work, but I was proud of bringing home a few shillings.”
The teenager progressed to working in the garden of a local convent and, with the blessing of the parish priest, took a position at Birr Castle, where the 6th Earl and Countess of Ross lived.
It was there that he met an old woman who invited him to America to try his fortune at her son’s company in Detroit.
“I was 21. I made my own decisions,” Mr. Troy said. “I wanted to come over here, as all immigrants do and send money back to your mother.”
Mr. Troy soon headed to where “all the diplomats, all the presidents” live, in Washington, where he was hired by Count Andre Marie Adrian de Limur, a pilot in the French Flying Corps. He worked as a butler for Count de Limur and his wife, Ethel Crocker, for three years, during which time he met such people as Stuart Davidson, founder of Clyde’s restaurants, and actor Maurice Chevalier.
The Irish butlers in Washington were a close-knit group, Mr. Troy said, and could be relied upon for a job well done. His connections within the community led him to working dinners at Robert F. Kennedy’s house and rubbing elbows with past presidents at the F Street Club, where he introduced himself to Presidents Eisenhower and Truman and renowned aviator Charles A. Lindbergh.
He became a U.S. citizen in 1967, a day Mr. Troy said he counts as one of the most memorable of his life.
“When that woman handed me my first American flag … that was a great feeling for me.”
In 1973, Mr. Troy and his wife started their long career in Old Town Alexandria, when they took over the Irish Walk import store, now on King Street. (He sold it to a former employee four years ago.) A few years later, the Troys opened Pat Troy’s Ireland’s Own, now on North Pitt Street.
It’s hard not to warm to Mr. Troy, with his strong handshake and thick Irish brogue.
Couple that with the 70-year-old’s proud patriotism and fearless song-and-dance routines on the pub’s stage, and it’s easy to see why the married father of two is an institution in Northern Virginia.
“Alexandria is very high in his heart, and the respect is mutual,” said Mayor William D. Euille. “When you think of Alexandria, you think of Pat Troy.”
The 38 years Mr. Troy has spent in Alexandria have been good ones, though the Irishman acknowledges the going wasn’t always easy.
When he wanted to move his pub to Lee Street, he was rerouted to another location, on Pitt Street, and a sour business deal proved costly.
There were several failed attempts to win a seat on the City Council, but Mr. Troy hasn’t held a grudge - he said he welcomes Democrats, Republicans and independents to his bar.
Today, the aging grandfather remains lighthearted and busy. Every year he heads Alexandria’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which he founded 30 years ago, and in the spring, he’s leading a tour group around Ireland.
This year, Mr. Troy also had the time to write a book.
“I Have a Story to Tell” is the product of 70 years of adventure and countless friends telling him to write down his memories.
“It’s not fine art, but I felt I’ve had a very interesting life,” he says.