Yes, Virginia, he is Santa Claus

If you believe 970-WFLA personality Tedd Webb, the radio career of Pat George started simply by being in the right place at the right time.

George was a janitor at WDAE in the 1970s when a personality called in sick. And because George could operate the broadcast board, he was allowed to fill in.

Pat George, dressed as Santa Claus, shares breakfast with kids at the Old Lutz School recently during the town’s Christmas events. (Courtesy of Suzin Carr)

Pat George, dressed as Santa Claus, shares breakfast with kids at the Old Lutz School recently during the town’s Christmas events. (Courtesy of Suzin Carr)

The rest is history. He officially joined WRBQ-FM — informally known as Q105 — in 1979, and then spent another decade or so at Radio Disney.

George is still recognized when he’s out and about — but not so much when he sticks a long white beard to his face, and slips into a bright red costume. It’s then that George becomes Santa Claus, a common visitor to the area — including the Old Lutz School — finding out what children everywhere want to find under the tree come Christmas morning.

“I don’t know what it is, the eyes or the smile, but when I watch little kids approach me as Santa Claus, they’re willing to sit on my lap. And some of these are kids who never sit on Santa’s lap otherwise. Maybe it’s because I have blue eyes. Who knows?”

Every year, George will dust off the Santa costume at the beginning of December, and make a number of appearances at events and even private homes leading up to Christmas. He takes part in the Christmas festivities at the Old Lutz School because his son is a member of the Civil Air Patrol’s North Tampa-Lutz Squadron, which meets at the historic landmark. He’s been the go-to Santa there the past few years, and families look forward to having him there.

“There are still kids that sit on Santa’s lap and cry, but parents still snap a picture,” George said, with a chuckle. “I don’t understand it at all. But I always try to talk to the kids, I pat them on the shoulder and tell them they are my buddy, and that usually calms them down enough to get a happier picture.”

The big item kids want this year are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, popular toy characters from the 1980s that have been resurrected thanks to the recent movie. Boys in particular, George said, want the Ninja Turtle backpack, which like the turtles themselves, comes in a hard shell.

What girls are asking for, however, is surprising.

“A lot of them want guitars,” George said. “I don’t know what it is out there driving it, and I’m pretty up on a lot of music. But it might be because there are a lot of shows on television right now where girls are not only singing, but they’re playing instruments too. So maybe we have Taylor Swift to thank for that.”

Of course, the big question Santa always asks children is whether they have been naughty or nice. Many say they’ve been good, but some will be honest and talk about some of the bad things they’ve done.

“I always tell them to be a good example to their younger brother and sister, and be sure to listen to their parents,” George said. “Always look out for your brother and sister, whether it’s at school or at the mall, and go to bed early. And if nothing else, make sure you have a good time, because we’re only kids once.”

Getting to know Santa Claus

What’s your favorite kind of milk?
I think 2 percent milk is the best, but never skim milk. It’s just too thin, even for Santa.

What’s summer like at the North Pole?
There’s nothing at the North Pole in the summer. That’s because Santa likes to go to the Caribbean, wearing Bermuda shorts and relaxing. But no matter how far you get into the Caribbean, people still recognize you.

How do you make all your stops on Christmas Eve?
It’s very magical, but we also get an early start. We don’t like to waste too much time. Sometimes I might be a little late, but that’s only because some boys and girls don’t want to go to bed early, and I have to wait down the street for them to fall asleep.

Who is your favorite reindeer?
It’s definitely between Donner and Blitzen. Rudolph gets all the attention and excitement, and the other reindeer are very quiet. But they are all hard-working reindeer.

What’s your message to the people of the world?
Santa would like peace on Earth, and goodwill to all. And a grilled cheese sandwich when it’s all done.

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