We love you Lumpy
About five years ago, a Sonoma Valley dad arranged for Santa Claus to deliver two bicycles to his house on Christmas Eve. The dad scripted the whole scenario and told his kids Santa had parked his sleigh around the corner so it wouldn’t wake anyone up. Santa made the delivery, ringing some sleigh bells while he dropped off the bikes, then ran like crazy until he was out of sight, and then jiggled the bells some more to clinch the deal.
The kids bought it, the dad loved it and so did Santa.
Another true story.
One Christmas season, back when they used to erect a big, striped tent on the Plaza where Santa would appear and listen to kids’ Christmas wishes while they sat on his lap, a little girl came in, not very exuberant, rather solemn, and Santa asked the standard questions. “Have you been a good girl,” and “What do you want for Christmas?”
In response, the girl looked down, sort of shuffled her feet, and then looked back up at Santa and said, “I’d like to have a hearing aid for my mom so she can hear me when I ask her things.” And, recalled Santa later on, “She got a big smile on her face, and she was gone, out the tent and gone. She was all by herself, and if I could have gotten her name, that’s something I could have fixed. I know enough people around town. Like Radar (from the TV show “MASH”) would say, ‘That would be a two or three phone-call-finagle.’ It would have been so easy.”
Santa’s got a big heart, but that encounter almost broke it.
David W. Williams, known to everyone in his widely extended family of friends as “Lumpy,” did a lot of finagling for friends and strangers, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for worthy causes, and inhabited not just the suit, but the soul of Santa. At least two generations of Sonomans sat on his lap, and over the course of many Christmases, countless thousands watched him arrive at the Plaza in the city’s antique fire truck.
On Tuesday evening, while he was driving south on 101 to meet his sister Judith (Tree) Williams, Lumpy died. First he pulled his car off the freeway, out of harms way, put the transmission in park, and then he collapsed against the steering wheel in what was most likely a sudden and total cardiac arrest.
Tree is convinced he didn’t suffer.
The painful irony of Lumpy’s passing was that his great heart, from which so much joy and generosity flowed, couldn’t keep him alive any longer. But what a legacy he leaves.
Lumpy had carried Santa’s toy bag for 45 years, ever since – at 15, and big for his age – he donned a Santa suit for his Massachusetts high school to direct a fundraising drive that netted $3,000. He spent four years as executive director of the Valley of the Moon Boys & Girls Club, managed and directed numerous international cycling events and held a number of executive positions with leading corporations.
He spent much of the last few years caring for his mother, Lucy, a luminous nurturer and volunteer in her own right, who passed away in June at the age of 96. The loss weighed heavily on him.
We asked Lumpy one time about the meaning of Christmas. This is what he said: “I’m very adamant about hanging on to that little bit of imagination, the fantasy part of it, that ‘reindeers fly’ part. Plus, the whole concept of Santa Claus, that if you’re good, good things happen to you. I like that concept. If we all practiced that all year long, it would be a good thing.”
Lumpy knew that the silver thread of his life had a certain fragility. He had a heart attack in 1990, a quadruple bypass in 2000, and a year ago an infection linked to an implanted defibrillator almost killed him.
But he always bounced back, and each Christmas season – preferably after the 1st of December – the suit came out and the whiskers went on and the magic began again.
The magic had a uniquely authentic spin because, in Sonoma, Santa knew your name, and your parents’ names, and that made him real.
“I’m on my second generation of kids here,” Lumpy told us. “I’ve had kids who sat on my lap and are now bringing their kids. It’s important to me that kids believe, and get to have this momentary thrill of imagination. If I know a kid, I’ll see the parents and I’ll call them by name, or call the kid by name. For Santa Claus to know that, is special. Other places, they expect him to know their names, but he never does. For Santa Claus to make that connection, that’s a huge thing.”
Lumpy’s name had nothing to do with his large body – his brother Gary was a “Leave it to Beaver” fan and the TV show had a character named Lumpy. But, while it may have puzzled some of his friends why anyone would be willing to go through adult life named Lumpy, when you knew him it somehow made sense.
Lumpy once told us, “When I die, please don’t write a headline that says, ‘Santa Claus Died.’ Please, don’t ever do that.”
We won’t Lumpy, because Santa Claus can never die. And in our hearts, neither can you.