(The Livingston Parish News) – The Livingston community and beyond is mourning the loss of a man who spent his holidays in recent years spreading joy to others.
Bob E. McDonald, Sr., a lifelong resident of Livingston, passed away on Feb. 18 following a battle with the novel coronavirus, his family confirmed.
He was 76.
A veteran of the National Guard and the U.S. Navy who served during the Vietnam War, McDonald married Rebecca “Becky” Ellis McDonald on April 3, 1964, when his ship docked in New Orleans. Together, they raised two sons, Bobby and Brian.
McDonald was a member of local 1098 working as a pile driver for Volks Construction, where he enjoyed working with his brothers, his sons, and nephews while making many close friends until his retirement in 2005.
Someone who loved to make others smile, McDonald eventually became known around these parts as Santa Claus, delighting thousands of children across southeast Louisiana with his jolly impression of Ol’ Saint Nick.
Over the last eight years, McDonald made appearances in Livingston and Tangipahoa parishes and even brought the act to leukemia patients at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans.
“I loved seeing him do it,” Becky McDonald, his wife, told WAFB earlier this month. “[He had] just a wonderful time.”
McDonald’s Santa Claus act began in 2013, according to local photographer Becky Blount. Blount, who owns a portrait studio in Hammond, was searching for another Santa Claus for holiday photo sessions and was eventually introduced to McDonald through a mutual friend.
As she told The News, it was a “match made in heaven.”
McDonald arrived for an interview wearing jeans and Duck Dynasty hat, but Blount said she could tell he “was destined to be Santa” after one look. McDonald quickly offered Blount’s daughter, 6 years old at the time, candy from his pocket, bringing a wide smile to the young girl’s face.
And just like that, Blount had found her Santa Claus.
“I could tell he had a special gift with children,” she said. “After he left, [my daughter] said, ‘Mom, you need to hire him!’ And I replied, ‘I did.’ We became a team!”
“I had prayed specifically when I began the search for a Santa to be sent someone who shared the same love for children as I do. He definitely was that and so much more!”
McDonald and Blount worked together for the next several years. They offered Santa portraits at the Hammond Square Shopping Center and entertained countless children at various elementary schools in Livingston Parish. When they traveled to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, they also delivered presents.
McDonald routinely made house calls to those who were not able to see him in public due to illness, Blount said. There was even a chance people might catch him as Santa Claus while shopping at a local grocery store or gas station.
“He acted as Santa whenever he could,” Blount said. “He never missed a chance to talk with someone and share a smile.”
When he was in character, Blount said McDonald always had a smile on his face “and loved making sure those he came into contact with did too.” He enjoyed joking with children and parents alike and had “so much love to share.”
McDonald later thanked Blount for helping him find his “life’s calling,” a moment Blount said she’ll “never forget.”
“It may have taken me almost 70 years,” Blount recalled McDonald saying, “but I have found it and I thank you.”
The Santa Claus act was modified this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Blount and McDonald arranged a fireplace scene in which Santa sat with Mrs. Claus behind a plexiglass shield, allowing him to safely talk and interact with children.
McDonald then told the children that he couldn’t ride in the sleigh with them this year, “but through a little Santa magic he would be in their photo.” Blount would then use green screen technology to make McDonald appear in the photos.
“The looks on the faces of the children as they saw Santa in their photo was priceless,” Blount said.
Things took a turn, however, when McDonald contracted the coronavirus in late January and was admitted to the COVID-19 intensive care unit at OLOL on Jan. 27, family members told WAFB earlier this month.
While in the hospital, family members told the outlet that McDonald contracted pneumonia and also experienced kidney failure as well as atrial fibrillation. His lungs were also in “bad shape.”
McDonald eventually passed away at 2 p.m. on Feb. 18, leaving behind his wife, his sons, his grandchildren, two brothers, three sisters, and many other family members and friends.
In his obituary, McDonald was said to love “making people laugh, adults and children alike.”
“He cherished the simple pleasures of life like time on the front porch visiting with family and friends,” it read. “Bob never met a stranger, lived an honest life, eagerly shared his love of the Lord with others.”
Relatives and friends are invited to attend the visitation at Redeemer Church (Doyle Baptist Family Life Center) in Livingston from 9-11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 27. The Celebration of Life, conducted by Rev. Ivy Ellis and Rev Richard White, will begin at 11 a.m.
Internment will follow in the Old Red Oak Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Redeemer Church or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. People can also offer their condolences at www.mclinfuneralhome.com.