Livingston man who found ‘life’s calling’ cheering up kids as Santa Claus passes away following COVID hospitalization
BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - A Livingston man who brought joy to hundreds, if not thousands of children in south Louisiana over the years by dressing up as Santa Claus, has passed away after a three-week coronavirus-related hospitalization.
Bob McDonald Sr., went peacefully at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center (OLOL) in Baton Rouge around 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, a family member tells WAFB. He was 76.
His family reached out to WAFB earlier this month simply asking for prayers and letters of encouragement while he was in a medically induced coma.
McDonald was a lifelong resident of Livingston, La. After serving in the Louisiana National Guard and U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, Bob worked as a pile driver in the construction industry before retiring.
However, it wasn’t until 2013 that he discovered his “life’s calling” of dressing up as Santa Claus and bringing laughter and joy to children, according to Becky Blount, a photographer he often worked with.
Blount said Bob thanked her for helping him find his true passion. “It took me almost 70 years to find it, but now I have,” Bob told her a few years after they began working together.
“It was definitely in God’s plan to make Mr. Bob Santa. I am just thankful he allowed me to be a part of it,” Blount told WAFB on Feb. 10.
Blount, who owns a Santa portrait studio in Hammond, was referred to Bob by a mutual friend they knew through church. She said Bob didn’t have much prior experience working as a Santa but it quickly became evident he was a natural.
Bob made everyone “feel like they were family” and had “a way of bringing joy [to people],” Blount said.
She said it was “a blessing to work alongside him to see the joy in children’s eyes each Christmas.”
For eight years, Bob worked as a Santa with Blount, lifting children’s spirits through photography sessions at Hammond Square Mall in Hammond, La. and elementary schools in Livingston Parish.
“I loved seeing him do it,” Becky McDonald, Bob’s wife of 57 years told WAFB on Feb. 10. “[He had] just a wonderful time.”
Blount explained eventually Bob gained a following and she began receiving requests from parents to have Bob be Santa for their family photos.
Bob had a “great way with kids,” Blount told WAFB.
In 2016, Bob and Blount began traveling to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans every year at Christmas time to bring cheer to children with Leukemia. Blount said Bob would take photos with patients who were healthy enough and brought gifts to those children who could not sit on his lap.
Blount said through tears on Feb. 10 she hoped Bob would be able to recover and return in time for Christmas 2021.
He made “sure to bring love and joy to everyone,” she said.
Bob’s wife explained he would also do voluntarily house calls as Santa to children who could not make it to a photography studio.
Photography for Christmas 2020 was different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Blount told WAFB. Her business still offered photos with Santa but Bob stood behind plexiglass and children were socially distanced in the sled. Through green screen technology, Bob was made to appear in the photos.
Bob contracted the coronavirus in late January and was admitted to the COVID intensive care unit (ICU) at OLOL on Jan. 27, family members tell WAFB.
While in the hospital, family members say Bob contracted pneumonia and also experienced kidney failure as well as atrial fibrillation (AFib).
Bob tested negative for the coronavirus after two weeks in the hospital but remained in the ICU.
Becky McDonald told WAFB on Feb. 10 that her husband’s lungs were “in bad shape” and he had “several things working against him.
In the days after WAFB’s initial report, Bob’s family said they received well-wishes from those who knew him and is greatly appreciative of those who prayed for him.
Family members ask those who would like to honor Bob’s memory by making a donation in his name to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital (tap/click here to donate) or Redmeer Church in Livingston.
“Please be in prayer for his family and friends in the days ahead,” Blount asked the community in a statement on her business’s Facebook page.
“He doesn’t have to worry about the trials of this old world anymore. I know he heard the words, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant.’ We just have to miss him, but he left us all with many wonderful memories to treasure forever. His elves sure are going to miss him , but will always cherish the CHRISTmas magic that he shared with all!”
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