By LINDSAY OLIVIER
NORTH KINGSTOWN – On Tuesday night, close to 400 people came to the Quonset “O” Club to toast, roast and celebrate former Town Council member Edward “Ted” “Santa” Whittaker’s life and accomplishments.
Throughout the night, a slideshow played featuring photos of Ted as a young boy, with his family, and during his second job as the town’s Santa Claus. It was a chance for elected officials, former and current co-workers, family, friends and people he didn’t even know but had in someway impacted their lives to come out for an evening of laughter and reminiscing.
Because Ted has been battling health issues over the last few years, many thought this would be a great time to hold an event to come out and pay tribute and celebrate the many things he’s done for the community.
“I didn’t invite all these people, just family,” laughed Ted’s wife Meredith. “It’s great seeing all the firefighters and past and present Town Council members here.”
Former Lieutenant Governor Charlie Fogarty remembered one Christmas Eve in 2005, when he was at Quonset Airport waiting for a plane of troops that had been in Iraq for a year to return home for the holidays.
“All the politicians were lined up waiting for the troops to exit the plane and Ted was there in is work uniform, the big red suit,” Fogarty said. “As the troops were exiting, they walked right past all of us and went straight to Santa.”
Whittaker served on the North Kingstown School Committee from 1990-1994 and on the Town Council from 2006-2008, where he took the place of the late Suzanne Henseler, one of his many friends.
“To know you is to love you,” current Town Council president Liz Dolan said.
Dolan, along with council members Michael Bestwick and Carol Hueston presented Ted with a certification of recognition for his involvement in town and for his efforts in making the holiday season that much happier.
Many of the speakers Tuesday night talked about his natural ability to make people around him feel safe and secure and marveled at how big of a heart he has.
While on the Town Council, he was an advocate for the new North Kingstown Fire Station 5 in Slocum.
“We wanted to come out and show our support for Ted,” North Kingstown Fire Lieutenant and Local 1651 Union President Raymond Furtado said. “He fought for the Slocum station. He knew coverage needed to be out there.”
Senator James Sheehan remembers when he got married, there was a stir among the children during the reception. They kept coming up to Sheehan and asking if they could go talk to Santa and why was he at his wedding.
“The children wanted to go up to him and give them their Christmas list, even though Christmas was months away,” Sheehan said. “I said ‘Santa likes to get a head start on the season’.”
In a telephone interview Wednesday morning, Whittaker was humbled and said the turnout Tuesday night blew him away.
“Saying ‘thank you’ isn’t enough,” Whittaker said. “For all those people to take time out of their schedules means so much to me they’ll never know. I saw so many old and dear friends.”
Whittaker wasn’t able to see Station 5 complete and recently took a tour of the facility that he helped advocate for. He called the men and women of the North Kingstown Fire Department “top shelf” employees and wore a jacket given to him by firefighters to bed for days.
“My body hurts from laughing so hard,” joked Whittaker.
Whittaker is currently employed as a senior chief investigator with the Rhode Island Department of Labor.