David ‘Lumpy’ Williams dies
DAVID “LUMPY” WILLIAMS, who was Sonoma’s Santa for years, died Tuesday at the age of 61.
David W. “Lumpy” Williams, a Sonoma Valley icon and Christmas institution, died Tuesday evening, Oct.16, from natural causes. He was 61.
Williams was known by thousands in the Sonoma Valley and beyond for his perpetual persona as Santa Claus, as well as for myriad contributions to civic and social causes,
Known universally as “Lumpy,” after a character on the “Leave it to Beaver” TV show, Williams was found slumped over the wheel of his car on the shoulder of Highway 101 near the 580 split in San Rafael. He had been on the way to the office of his sister, Judith Tree Williams, in Corte Madera and apparently was able to pull off the highway and stop the car before suffering what was likely a sudden cardiac arrest.
Williams had a history of heart disease and had an implanted defibrillator following a quadruple coronary bypass operation in 2000.
His sister said she spoke to her brother at 5:30 p.m. as he was driving on Highway 37. It was the last conversation she had with him.
“He was an integral part of so many things. A lot of people are heartbroken, and I certainly understand. But I want everyone to know that he’s at peace now,” she said.
Williams had a long record of public service and executive experience, spending four years as executive director of the then-Valley of the Moon Boys & Girls Club. He had also been promotions manager for the Sebastiani Theatre, general manager of Sierra Management Corporation and general manager of the restaurant and bar at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa.
Williams had considerable promotional experience, serving as competition manager for cycling for the Atlanta Paralympic Organizing Committee and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games in 1995-96, and also served as contract race director and event manager for the Wine Country Classic from 1991 to 2001, and for The Great Race in Sonoma from 1996 to 1998.
But it was as Santa Claus that “Lumpy” was best known, appearing at countless holiday events and arriving in a vintage fire truck at the Sonoma Plaza during the annual lighting of the Christmas tree, where he greeted hundreds of children and their parents, many of whom themselves once greeted Williams as kids.
Williams had a rule that he never left the Plaza until every child was tended to. “I make sure every kid has a chance to shake hands with Santa,” he once told the Index-Tribune. “I try not to leave until everybody’s happy and has their picture taken.”
Traditionally, Williams would then circle the Plaza, visiting shoppers and shopkeepers, before leading an entourage to the Sonoma Community Center for another opportunity to meet and greet Santa. He had a small band of support elves, including his sister, Tree, and together they would also visit the Sonoma Valley Hospital and Vintage House senior center.
During Christmas season, it was not unusual for Williams to have daily, and even twice-daily appearances.
He first adopted the Santa persona when he was a 15-year-old high school student in Pittsfield, Mass., and donned a borrowed Santa suit to lead a fundraising effort that brought in $3,000. He was hooked for life.
A hockey goalie and football player in high school, Williams stood 6-feet, 2-inches tall and understood that even Santa, when he’s that big, could be intimidating to children, so he took special care to reassure them. “I’m a pretty big guy anyway, and all dressed up in red, I can be a pretty imposing guy. It can be scary to kids.”
He was a stickler for authenticity and expressed real anger at the memory of being a 6-year-old and seeing a department store Santa wearing “fake boot covers over brown construction boots.” He later vowed never to wear a watch as Santa, and always to wear real boots. So he shelled out $250 for a pair of black Fryes and kept them carefully shined.
In the minds of many Sonoma Valley children, Lumpy was the real Santa. “Kids from Sonoma Valley go to other places, see a Santa,” Williams told the Index-Tribune, “and they say, ‘That’s not the guy who comes and lights up the Christmas tree. He’s the real Santa.’”
David Williams leaves behind his brother Gary Williams (Diane Wall and children, Morgan and Graham) and his sister Judith Tree Williams (Tom Azevedo).
Memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at the Sebastiani Theatre. Arrangements are being made by Duggan’s Mission Chapel in Sonoma.