Beloved NJ ‘real’ Santa dies, but you can help his Christmas spirit live on
To four daughters and two sons, he was a loving father. To five more children, a grandfather.
And to countless others throughout New Jersey, he was simply Santa.
Raymond J. Beesley "was a man who selflessly brought hope, love, joy, kindness, belief and the chance to relive your childhood with the spirit of Christmas," his family wrote in an obituary published Wednesday. "Raymond was and is a shining example of humanity at its best, how we should all be in this world. This man was a true angel on Earth, who touched countless lives with his kindness."
Beesley — a longtime sheet metal worker who, every winter for 21 years, donned his signature red suit and spread good cheer throughout the state — died Friday. According to Tapinto.net, most of his time as Santa was at the Wayne Town Center. When it closed, he moved onto the Ice Caverns at the Fairfield Garden Center, where he had been since.
"Ray Beesley's generosity and love of children were legendary," "Allison Howard Beesley wrote on a GoFundMe page in Raymond Beesley's memory. "For decades, he was the 'real' Santa to thousands of children, soothing their fears and drawing them in with a soft voice and warm smile. He made doubters into believers.
"He reminded parents that their children were their greatest gift, and gently reminded them to take care of themselves. "
It's through that fundraiser the Beesley family hopes to see Raymond's memory and Christmas spirit live on. It's aiming to collect $15,000 for children in need. As of Wednesday at mid-day, more than $11,000 had been donated.
Ratmond Beesley "cared for everyone he met, loved with an unparalleled fierceness, and gave of himself endlessly," Allison Beesley wrote. "He was a man who selflessly brought hope, love, kindness, belief, and a chance to relive our childhood with the spirit of Christmas. He was an is a shining example of humanity at its best, how we should all be in this world."
NJ.com reported Beesely's chair in the Christmas Ice Cavern display at the garden center remained empty this weekend. It quoted John Fernicola, owner of Fairfield Garden Center, saying phones had been ringing off the hook since Beesely's death.
Fernicola recounted his fondest memory of Beesely for the news site — when two young children told "Santa" they wanted to see their father come home from service in the U.S. Army. Santa made their wish come true — their father came out from behind the display, and "the kids went crazy," Fernicola said.
"You were the only Santa my kids ever knew. You were the best Santa I ever knew," Michael Wassuta wrote on the GoFundMe page. "I can't begin to tell you how much you have touch my family's hearts over the years. You were truly the most amazing, kindhearted person. ... He was Santa and there will never be another like him. God bless."
Raymond Beesely was was born in Paterson, where he lived most of his life, raising children with his wife, Patricia, according to his obituary. He'd been a sheet metal worker with Local Union No. 137 until his retirement. He'd also been a parishioner, eucharistic minister and choir musician at St. Bonaventure Roman Catholic Church, and a member of the Knights of Columbus.
"He will be most remembered for his charity work, gathering donations, visiting various hospitals, shelters, children's centers and nursing homes. It was his personal mission to bring joy and ease pain in the lives of those less fortunate," his family wrote in the obituary.
A funeral Mass will be at St. Bonaventure R.C. Church, 174 Ramsey Street on Saturday at 9:30 a.m., with interment to follow at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Totowa. Visitors will be welcomed Friday from 1 to 8 p.m. at the church.
More from New Jersey 101.5: