Johnny Hammond, 74: Big man had a Santa spirit for all seasons

Johnny ‘Santa Johnny’ Hammond

Johnny ‘Santa Johnny’ Hammond

The Christmas season was Johnny Hammond’s favorite time of the year. With his long white beard, all he had to do was don a red suit to transform himself into Santa Claus. As Santa at Southlake Mall and Phipps Plaza for two decades, “Santa Johnny” listened to the Christmas wish lists of thousands of children. He would always remind them to mind their parents, brush their teeth and say their prayers – to be good little boys and girls so Santa would visit them with his big bag of toys at Christmas.

But this holiday season, there will be one less jolly Santa sharing holiday cheer. Johnny “Santa Johnny” Hammond, 74, of Mansfield, died on Nov. 27 of Parkinson’s Disease.

“He was the beloved Santa at malls, churches and hospitals for many years during the month of December, but he was really Santa all year,” said Linda Hammond, his wife of 31 years. “He was always giving quarters and candy to kids he met. He loved children and really connected with them. And they loved him.”

Daughter Heather Nichols of Hiawassee recalled, “Being Santa was huge part of his life. Even in the summer, when we would go out and he’d be wearing a polo shirt and khaki shorts, children would flock to him because of his white beard. He looked like Santa all year.”

Hammond was born Feb. 16, 1942, in Covington. He graduated from Newton County High School and attended technical school after going to work for AT&T. He worked for the company for 30 years before retiring in 1994.

Linda Hammond said her husband “became Santa” after he retired and let his white beard grow.

“He was a big guy, 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, so with the white beard and the red suit, he was a very real looking Santa,” she said.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Heather, survivors include daughter Andrea Hammond of Covington; two grandsons; two sisters; two brothers; and numerous nieces and nephews.

The memorial service for Hammond on Dec. 5 at First United Methodist Church of Covington was attended by many people who met Hammond as Santa Johnny. A red Santa suit and black boots were displayed at the service along with pictures of his family.

Steve Lane of photography company Bigshot Santa at Phipps said Hammond had a gentle soul, big heart and a Santa-like twinkle in his eye.

“He always had time for children,” said Lane, who spoke at Hammond’s memorial service. “One night, we got a request for a visit from Santa from the family of a very sick little girl in the hospital. After Johnny finished his work as Santa at Phipps about 8:30 at night, we got in the car and drove to the hospital to see the little girl. There was no way he wasn’t going to see the child that night. That was the way he was, always available for children.”

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations may be made to the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation.