Gulfport family remembers legacy of longtime Santa
“His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
“His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
“His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
“And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.”
Those lines from Clement C. Moore’s (some scholars say Henry Livingston Jr.’s) “A Visit from St. Nicholas” were first published in 1823, but they could have been written to describe Rubin George Posey, otherwise known as Santa to generations of kids who whispered their hearts’ desires to him for 25 Christmas seasons at Edgewater Mall in Biloxi.
Posey died in 1989 at age 84, but his son, Rubin Scott Posey, known as Scotty, still hears from Coast natives who consider his father the ultimate jolly old elf.
“People I went to high school with, three generations of people. On Facebook, they’ll tell me about sitting on Daddy’s knee and years later taking their kids to see him,” Scotty Posey said.
Posey and his wife, Phyllis, live in Gulfport and decorate their home, where Scotty Posey grew up, in classic Christmas style. One special spot on the wall in the living room is reserved for a picture of Rubin Posey in complete, colorful Santa regalia, including his gloriously full white beard. At 6 feet, 2 inches and 220 pounds, he “was not fat, just big,” his son said.
Rubin Posey first played Santa “at Sears, when it was in downtown Gulfport,” his son said. “Daddy had a fantastic personality. He never met anybody he didn’t like.”
When Edgewater Mall opened in 1963, Rubin Posey began working as a security guard there. When the mall’s first Christmas season came around, a man was hired as its Santa, but that gig lasted about two weeks, according to photography studio owner Robert McVadon in a Sun Herald story published in 1989. Posey inquired about the job, and the Edgewater Mall Santa — the man, the myth, the legend — was born.
“There were lines literally from one end of the mall to the other,” his son said. That happened every year, he noted.
“That’s no exaggeration,” Phyllis Posey said.
“And the line never stopped,” Scotty Posey added. “I don’t remember seeing him any time there wasn’t a line. They would come from Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas to see him and bring their children because that was the Santa they had had their pictures taken with.”
“And nobody seemed to mind the wait,” Phyllis Posey said.
Rubin Posey seemed to possess the gift of charming every child who went to visit him. Well, almost.
“Well, some would cry because they were afraid of his beard. Those were the very little ones who didn’t know who Santa Claus was. Here they would be, handed off to a stranger with this big white beard, and that would make them cry. But he could calm them down,” Scotty said.
Santa also carried extra sets of clothes — just in case.
“You know, in case somebody wet on him, because that was bound to happen,” Scotty said. “I don’t know how many times he had to change every day, but he carried three changes of clothes. Broome Studios was there in the mall and they were the ones who hired him every year, so they would get (the costumes) cleaned and dried.”
Rubin Posey would transform into Santa from the Saturday before Thanksgiving and until Christmas Eve, sometimes arriving by unusual means, such as Amtrak or by helicopter. When he left the mall on Dec. 24, he became Daddy, and the Poseys took Christmas seriously.
“We always celebrated the birth of Christ, and Daddy make sure Christmas was about family,” Scotty Posey recalled. “We would take the phone off the hook and sheets were put over the windows.”
“Girlfriends were not allowed over,” Phyllis Posey said with a laugh. “When I finally was invited to be a part, I couldn’t believe how many presents there were. They were under the tree and went out into the hall.”
“When Daddy came home on Christmas Eve, it was time to open the presents,” Scotty Posey said. “We would open presents for a couple of hours then take a break. It really would take at least four hours to open all the presents.”
Christmas stayed with Rubin Posey throughout the year in small ways.
“He carried candy canes with him 12 months of the year,” his son said. “People knew if you saw Rubin Posey, you’d get a candy cane from him.”
Scotty and Phyllis often felt like they had a celebrity in the family.
“We had gone to the Humane Society (of South Mississippi) with Laddie to get his picture taken,” Phyllis said, referring to the couple’s beloved late Scottish terrier, Laddie Me Boy. “A woman there, when she found out who Scotty was, went and hugged him and said she sat on his daddy’s lap and took her kids, too.”
Rubin Posey, a native of Philadelphia, Mississippi, was “very easygoing,” his son recalled. “He had 12 brothers and sisters, and most of them went on to college while he worked to help put them through school. Daddy worked hard, but he was happiest when he was outside.
“He was happiest when he was out playing in the yard and at Edgewater Mall playing Santa Claus,” he added.