RICHBURG — Crowds at holiday parades in Richburg, Chester and Lowrys for years knew one thing for sure come Christmastime: Thomas Carlisle McCrorey, a.k.a. Santa Claus, was going to deliver.
For more than 20 years, he alone donned a red body suit equipped with extra padding, strapped on a long white beard and stepped into big black boots to take his place as Santa and smile and wave from floats, fire trucks, wagons or buggies during community Christmas parades.
He never charged a cent.
He enjoyed the kids, said Johnny Huskins, his friend of at least 40 years. He enjoyed everybody.
McCrorey, a World War II veteran and former employee with the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (ASCS), died Sunday at Harbor Chase Assisted Living in Rock Hill. He was 91.
When the Richburg native wasnt bellowing, Ho ho ho, he served as the only charter member of Chesters Civitan Club, said Betty Bagley, a Chester city councilwoman and club president.
If you can call someone a perfect gentleman, he was it, she said. He treated everybody the same.
McCrorey was a more than 60-year member of the Richburg Masonic Lodge and an active participant in the Senior Olympics, winning two silver medals at national competitions. A member of Bethel United Methodist Church since 1950, McCrorey was very religious, Huskins said, but he wasnt one of those people to knock you over the head with it.
He was upbeat...positive... a prince of a guy with a sense of humor, he said. He loved a good joke; even if it was on him.
After Christmas 2007, McCrorey put the jolly red suit back in the closet, retiring from his role as Santa. Within the last three years, McCrorey suffered from a touch of dementia, Huskins said.
Earlier this year, Huskins and another Civitan Club member visited McCrorey in assisted living, where I wasnt sure he could recognize us, Huskins said. But, when Huskins mentioned the Civitan Club, McCrorey lit up.
In the 35 years Sally Bess worked with McCrorey at ASCS, I never saw him mad, she said. He never made enemies. We never got into an argument.
McCrorey worked at ASCS for 46 years, eventually becoming the executive director for Chester County. In 1981, he was honored with the national Distinguished Service Award by the National Association of Farm Service Agency County Office Employees (NASCOE).
When he won his national award, I called him and told him he had won it. He said, youre lying Sally, she recalled Monday.
He was the most wonderful man Ive ever known, she said. He was loved by everyone. I dont know a person in the world who didnt love Mr. McCrorey.
A celebration of life service for McCrorey starts Thursday at 11 a.m. at Bethel United Methodist Church in Chester.
Jonathan McFadden (803) 329-4082