Before Easter slips much further away, it’s important to note what inspired veteran Sonoma County firefighter Jack Piccinini to hop about San Francisco’s Washington Square in a bunny suit.

Make that “who” inspired him.

Piccinini led an Easter parade in the North Beach park to honor his late uncle, Ray Piccinini, a most entertaining and caring fellow who was renowned in San Francisco for the decades that he morphed in a bunny each Easter and delivered baskets and joy to ailing children who spent the holiday in hospitals.

He once recalled the moment he knew that he’d found a calling to take Easter into children’s hospitals and wards in San Francisco. The very first year he did it, he was in full bunny regalia as he peered at a child through a glass door.

“There was this little boy in a body cast — maybe 6 or 7,” Ray told a reporter. “When he saw me, he literally jumped off the couch — in a body cast! The other kids got out of his way, and he floated down in slow motion.

“When our eyes met — I can still see him — I was looking at the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen in my whole life. And he said, ‘I knew you’d find me.’”

Prior to each Easter for the nearly 50 years, Ray and his wife, Pam, spent much time and money gathering the small toys and candy that he would dispense at hospitals on the big day.

When Ray died in 2009, his great-nephew, Craig Gianinno of San Bruno, stepped into the bunny suit and into the role. Gianinno made the rounds at hospitals in the city on Sunday.

And this year, nephew Jack Piccinini, the Sonoma County native and Santa Rosa Fire Department battalion chief, expanded the mission by appearing in the suit Saturday at the first Ray Piccinini Easter Parade at Washington Square.

“It was a proud moment,” Jack said.

As the bunny, “You don’t say anything,” he said.

“You don’t speak. “You just see the eyes of these children.”