“Ihave two things I say all the time,” says Ron Wil- liams, 72, “One is, ‘It’s good to be Santa.’ The other is, ‘It’s good to be me.’” Williams has
been a shopping-mall Santa for 16 years. His bushy,
white beard is real; so are his rotund belly, ruddy
cheeks and jolly laugh.
A 2002 financial setback occasioned Wil-
liams’s metamorphosis into Father Christmas.
He was laid off from his customer-service job
at a computer company in Eatontown. “I got my
house ready for sale, because I couldn’t afford to
keep it. My wife and I were raising three daughters. It was just before Christmas,” he says. (Fun
fact: His wife’s name is Holly.)
A relative suggested that, if Williams grew a beard, he would
look just like the Coca-Cola Santa Claus. The relative was right.
On Williams’s first day at the Galleria in Red Bank, he saw
“maybe a dozen kids.” Then word starting getting around. Now
hundreds wait in line to see him during his four-hour weekend
shifts, which start just after Thanksgiving and continue through
Christmas Eve. He can’t go anywhere without being stopped for
selfies—even in his street clothes.
Three hours after interviewing
Williams, my cell phone is ringing. It’s Santa calling. He forgot to
mention something. He wants me
to assure parents that he keeps his
hands visible when he is photographed with a child on his lap.
“In this day and age,” says Santa,
“you have to be so careful.”
Despite the growing need for caution,
the Brick Township resident still
enjoys his seasonal job, passing out
candy canes, comforting hesitant tod-
dlers and fielding requests for Legos
at the Galleria.
Such is Williams’s appeal that
he has attained what may be a New
Jersey Santa’s highest achievement: For several
Decembers in the early 2000s, he was summoned
to deliver holiday cheer to the Springsteen family.
“I used to go to their place in Rumson, before
their kids aged out,” Williams says. “Bruce is a really nice guy. One
time he said to me, ‘ You know how they call me the Boss? I have to
tell you—this time of year, you’re the boss.’” P H
The beard is real—and so is Ron Williams’s
joy at playing Santa. By Tammy La Gorce
“It’s good to
IN THE SPIRI T
Ron Williams spreads
the joy to his grand-
children, Shane and
Jamie Cashin, at the
Galleria in Red Bank.