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Sunday Conversation with Patrick Ungashick

Business exec dons clown gear for charity

Children’s Christmas Parade

10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 5, in Midtown Atlanta beginning at Peachtree and 16th streets and ending at Peachtree and 5th streets.

Information: www.choa.orgparade

Not every business executive would tolerate being called a clown, much less the head clown, but Patrick Ungashick asks for it. Going on nine years, the CEO of White Horse Advisors, an Atlanta investment firm, relishes shedding the suit for a Kelly green tuxedo and face paint to entertain the kids at the Children’s Christmas Parade, this year on Dec. 5. He also leads the “Distinguished Clown Corps” of business and community leaders that formed in 1991 and have donated more than $1 million to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In return, this merry band of movers and shakers gets to ditch their corporate personas for a chance to, well, clown around..

Q: Talk more about the Distinguished Clown Corps.

A: We write a check or do a little fundraising to come up with a minimum $1,500 cash donation to Children's Healthcare, although many contribute substantially more. On parade day, we show up bright and early at the Clifton Road campus and dress up as clowns. We spend a couple of hours with the kids in the hospital, which is incredible. The first time I did this, I had no idea the kind of fantastic reaction we would get. Then we walk the parade route down Peachtree. For me and for a lot of the other clowns, this is our favorite day of the year.

Q: You are head clown?

A: I inherited that title — we are a rather irreverent bunch. There are other clowns who serve on what we call our "bored of directors." We do not want to get too bureaucratic or institutional.

Q: Do you have to go to clown school?

A: No, anyone can be a clown. We enjoy seeing people who have rather reserved and corporate personalities unfold. There is something about putting on makeup and a costume and becoming anonymous that lights a spark in people and makes them want to do a little soft shoe or honk a horn to make kids smile.

Q: Is being a clown a big leap for you?

A: I like to think I am a fun and jovial kind of person. When the weather is good, typically 350,000 people attend the parade. When you have kids calling, "Hey, clown, come over here," it is transformative.

Q: Have you ever had a clown who couldn’t get into character?

A: A few people don't come back so maybe it wasn't for them. I have never had anyone tell me that the experience was anything less than very memorable, warm and wonderful.

Q: Who provides the costumes and makeup?

A: Children's Healthcare makes it very easy for us. They have volunteers, including some professional makeup people. We own 70 to 80 costumes. A number of us have our own costume. My family heritage is Irish so my clown costume is a green tuxedo called the "lepre-clown."

Q: Have you had any personal experiences with Children’s Healthcare?

A: We have all boys and have been a customer of Children's on many occasions. My middle son was born at two pounds. For the first years of his life, we were regulars at one of the Children's facilities. I was already a huge appreciator of what Children's means to this community before I ever became a clown.

Q: What do your employees think about the boss being the head clown?

A: Everyone is still pretty respectful. In my office is a large plaque with my clown picture and the years I have been involved. I have some clown gear around. Don't get me wrong — it is not creepy. For some of the others and me, being a clown has become a little part of our identity.