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CAROLINA SHORES—Bill Woods is naturally bearded and jovial.
Small surprise, then, that the affable, retired FDNY lieutenant has been playing Santa Claus for the past quarter-century.
This Christmas, the retired Carolina Shores resident and his wife, Carol, planned to hitch up their sleigh and journey to their native New York, where Woods was to visit with children at firehouses where the couple’s two sons now serve.
“It’s a big event because when they do have their Christmas party for the kids and all, what they do is they have a neighboring company come with the ladder, and I get into the bucket from the roof,” said Woods, 70.
“So the kids never see me until I’m actually coming off the roof and the whole neighborhood is out. I mean, I’m talking about a ghetto area, you know? But the people are so thrilled by it.”
This firehouse Santa hands out about 100 candy canes, “which go in about two minutes,” he said with a chuckle.
His Santa career got started when “I pinched-hit one time; that’s what happened,” said Woods, a retired lieutenant with Bronx Fire Co.’s Ladder 19 who put in 31 years with FDNY.
He and his colleagues were visiting a local burn center at Christmastime. Santa hadn’t shown up yet, but the Santa suit had.
“They looked around the room and nobody would do it, so I said, ‘I’ll do it,’” Woods recalled. “I had no beard at the time. They got a big kick out of that so they said, ‘You do it next year, will ya?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ ”
His fake beard had a tendency to slip off, so Woods subsequently started growing his own beard in preparation for what quickly became a holiday tradition for him to visit with children as Santa. Remarkably, his beard started growing out white while the rest of the hair on his head remained dark.
Less than 10 years ago, his beloved Christmas Carol encouraged him to wear the beard year-round, “because I thought it was distinguished-looking,” she said.
“They call me the man from ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’” Bill said with another jovial chuckle.
Throughout the year, Woods draws attention from young passersby even when he’s not in costume.
Children often stop and stare, Carol said, and her husband will respond with a buoyant, ‘Ho, ho, ho—You’ve got to be a good boy ’cause Christmas is coming six months later.’
“We have our first granddaughter,” Carol added proudly. “She has her own personal Santa Claus.”
All of Woods’ Santa appearances are unpaid and voluntary.
He says they’re blessed. The couple and their two sons, Billy and Pete, both assisted with rescue and relief efforts following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center seven years ago, the men in their jobs with FDNY and NYPD and Carol with the American Red Cross.
The family was subsequently featured in a story in a magazine published by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
Carol is a breast cancer survivor, having undergone a double mastectomy.
“I’m No. 1 for charity,” Woods said. “I’ll sit in the chair and greet everybody and let the organization take the money.”
This big-hearted Santa even brings his own candy canes.