What’s it take to be Santa?

Posted 12/7/22

Joe White was a natural for the job.

He was the right height, stout and rotund. He wasn’t fat, but had a paunch. That’s not what made him a good Santa, however. No, he didn’t …

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What’s it take to be Santa?


Joe White was a natural for the job.

He was the right height, stout and rotund. He wasn’t fat, but had a paunch. That’s not what made him a good Santa, however. No, he didn’t have a white beard and fuzzy eyebrows. He did have a twinkle in his eye, a persistent smile and he loved kids.

Those attributes made him a good salesman for the Beacon and the perfect employee to play the role of the jolly elf for the Beacon’s annual photos with Santa. This year’s photo shoot is from 10 to noon at the Pontiac police substation and community room just down the hill from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pontiac. We’re teaming up with the community division of Warwick Police – one of them is Santa – who with the help of Debbie Wood of We Be Jammin is serving up hot chocolate and goodies.

Joe White’s run as Santa precedes a time when police thought of being Santa of, for that matter, chiefs would have embraced it as being in line with police duty.

Joe usually arrived a half hour before the Beacon doors opened and parents and their kids dashed from their cars to be the first. Joe would arrive with a big Styrofoam cup of coffee, check out his chair next to the tree and the basket filled with candy canes to make sure they were in easy reach. Then he would suit up, fuss with his wide black belt and pull down the bread over his chin once he’d finished his coffee.

He’d station himself in the breakroom out of sight from the front door and wait for the appropriate time. When he heard kids’ voices, he’d emerge waving and with a loud ho-ho-ho. Kids jumped around, and shrieked with excitement. A few daring ones darted over to give him a hug.

“Did you hear the reindeer on the roof? They make a terrible racket.”

There were astonished looks at the ceiling and some kids wanted to go out if it wasn’t too late.

He had kids believing before they questioned it.

But as much as Joe was the perfect Santa, he still needed a red suit trimmed in white faux fir and a beard.

One Christmas shoot, Joe arrived early as customary and after making his checks prepared to suit up.

“Where’s the suit?” he asked.

I looked to the lineup of trusty Santa accomplices including Richard Fleischer, Janice Torilli and Sharon Robertson. We all looked blankly at one another. We had the candy canes, the cider, the donuts and the boom box with the Christmas music, but we’d forgotten the suit.

Somehow Joe wasn’t perturbed. Was he going to try to pull off Santa without even a beard and a cap?

We frantically called the rental company. Did they have a suit? The answer was no. It was out on rental.  We bounced around thoughts on who might own a suit coming up blank until I remembered Byron Batty. Byron had a studio and he did professional photos with Santa. Maybe he knew a Santa who could dash over and save the day. I called and his wife, Carol, answered.

Yes, they had a suit and best of all it was hanging in the closet.

Joe never looked so good. It was if the suit had been tailor made to fit him. Byron and Carol loaned us the suit year after year until the studio closed at which point Carol gave us the suit.

The suit won’t be making an appearance this year. The officer turned Santa was so enthralled with his new role that he went out and bought his own suit. I’m looking forward to working with the “new Santa” on Saturday and I’m hoping to see familiar faces of one-time kids, now parents with their own kids who have returned year after year.

I’ll miss Joe and his casual acceptance that he didn’t have a suit. Somehow he knew it would all work out and when you think about it, that’s a big part of being a Santa. Have you ever heard Santa worry?

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