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Vero Beach has a new Santa

(Week of December 9, 2010)

For the families lining Ocean Drive for Vero’s traditional Christmas parade, a Santa is a Santa, year after year.

But this Christmas parade, the man in the red suit and the way he got there was the stuff of a Debbie Macomber novel – the Vero writer of the “Mrs. Miracle” books that keep getting made into Hallmark Channel movies.

Georgia Irish, a vice-president at Marine Bank and marshal of the parade, considers Ron Davidson her Christmas miracle, stepping in after the late Norman Swett, last year’s Santa and one of the bank’s customers, died just weeks after playing the part.

Swett had happened into the bank last fall, just as the parade committee was trying to find a Santa.  Irish was struck by his flowing white locks and beard, and asked  if he would play the part.  He agreed, even though he wasn’t feeling well, and he took the Santa suit home with him. 

By the time the parade rolled around, Swett’s health was declining, but he insisted on dressing up anyway. Those who assisted said it was a struggle for him just getting up onto the float, the traditional parade finale.

No one watching had even a clue; beneath beard and red hat, he was every bit as jolly as any Santa Vero had seen.

Weeks later, when he passed away, his family returned the suit to Irish, so that she could find another Santa. 

Enter Ron Davidson, who moved to Vero last year. Davidson came to Vero from Pompano Beach, having met his bride-to-be, Lisa, the never-married owner of Shells & Things on Ocean Drive.  Lisa Davidson had had a career in retailing, designing displays for Lord & Taylor in Stamford, Conn.

When she bought the shop, she honored its past of 26 years, and kept the name; she even stocks a Christmas ornament made by its previous owner. But she has diligently transformed what was essentially a tourist shop into an upscale gift and jewelry shop. Drawing on her window dressing talents, she transformed her front window into a sea-themed extravaganza of ornaments and tinsel.

Ron Davidson didn’t hesitate to move to Vero to be with Lisa, and hoped to find employment in his field, marine supplies.  The economy hindered that plan, and Ron has been working in Lisa’s shop ever since, proving himself to be “not just a wonderful husband,” as Lisa puts it, giggling, “but a fabulous employee as well.” 

“He made that!” she exclaimed, pointing out a shimmering wreath adorned with shells.  

It was Georgia Irish herself, a notary because of her banking career, who presided over the Davidsons’ marriage ceremony. Picking him as Santa was a no-brainer. She has always loved Ron’s jovial nature. 

“He’s kind, he loves kids, and I knew his personality would fill the suit -- along with some extra padding,” she says with a laugh.

When she asked him if he would be this year’s Santa, Davidson was thrilled.

 “I was a little nervous at first,” he confided. “But once you see those little faces in the crowd, the butterflies disappear. When I singled out a little kid for attention, you could see the adoration in their eyes.

“I had wanted to play Santa my whole life,” he said.  “This was a dream come true.”

At the parade’s end, a still-buoyant Santa returned to the shop for a quick break, before heading off to Kilwin’s Ice Cream and Fudge Shop, where he was scheduled to hand out candy. But first, he popped in Shells & Things with a honey-I’m-home nonchalance, as a non-plussed Lisa greeted him with a kiss, apparently happy to claim not just a new husband but a full-on Santa to boot.

“Oh, honey, you must be hot,” she fussed. “Do you want a drink of water?”

Ron Davidson tugged his white beard away from his face, and scratched enthusiastically beneath it. Though brief, it was a moment of clear discontent. “This just isn’t working for me,” he said to Lisa. “Next year, I’ve got to grow my own beard.”

That, says Irish, could be a problem. “He’s got red hair,” she says.