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Former Vernon mall Santa will keep going because it 'feeds the spirit'

David Robertson, 74, has transformed into Santa Claus every winter for the past 20 years.
December 23, 2015 - 9:00 PM

VERNON - David Robertson inquired about becoming a mall Santa on a whim.

That was about 20 years ago, he says in his lilting Scottish accent. Born in Edinburgh, Robertson moved to Canada in 1958, and to Vernon in the 1970s to teach high school drama.

“Just out of sheer, puckish humour I thought I’d ask if the mall needed a Santa Claus,” Robertson recalls.

With his wire-rimmed spectacles, bushy beard, and jolly demeanour, he landed the job. A theatre actor and director, he remembers feeling a bit jittery before his first shift.

“Like any time you go on stage, there’s that little twang of nerves. You don’t want to say something stupid, because it’s all ad-libbed,” Robertson says.

He walked out in his Santa costume and met the photographer, Brenda Hala, "a little elf with a twinkle in her eye," as he calls her, and was instantly at ease. That day a special friendship and a passion for playing Santa was born.

Over the years, Robertson stopped at nothing to make people smile. From newborns to 90-year-olds, he’s had just about everybody sit on his lap, and the reverse too; on more than one occasion, he’s sprawled across the laps of giggling teenagers and college students.

He remembers one little boy, about seven years old, who came with his mother. Both were dressed to the nines, he says.

“This little guy just wouldn’t smile,” Robertson says. “Finally, Brenda says, ‘can you say mum has stinky feet?’ The boy says — straight-faced as ever — ‘I can’t say mum has stinky feet, but she does have stinky farts.’ I had tears running down my cheeks and my mouth was cracked from ear-to-ear.”

There were somber moments too. Once, a little girl asked if Santa could bring her daddy back.

“I looked at the mum, and she was starting to break-up. I put the kids down and went over and held her. The line of parents and kids just went quiet and waited. The mall’s a noisy place, but there was a hush. No one said, 'let’s go, let’s get cracking,'” Robertson says. “It was just the kind of thing that confirmed my faith in the goodness of human beings.”

After two decades playing Santa at the Vernon mall, Robertson won’t be there this year. He preferred not to go into details, but says he "wasn’t comfortable under the changes that were proposed" and decided to "leave with my memories intact."

But he’s not retiring, either. You can still find him making Christmas memories at local schools and events. He can also be found at his old friend Brenda Hala’s photography studio in downtown Vernon. Hala passed away earlier this year, but her memory lives on at the studio where she documented many special memories for people.

“Someone came in with their daughter and said, ‘this is the 19th year we have pictures with you,’” Robertson says. “From when she was a baby just a day old until today, they’ve put all the photos out for the month of December.”

Robertson says he gets as much joy from those he meets as they do from him.

“It feeds the spirit. My friends used to say ‘why do you do Santa Claus every year without a day off?’ I said, ‘you don’t need a day off when you’re having fun.’”

You can contact Robertson at 250-260-1300 or email him at piffle@mac.com to set up a date with Santa. 

To contact a reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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