Christmas won't be the same in Glen Burnie now that Bil Padfield is gone.
For the first time in 54 years, Mr. Padfield, Glen Burnie's unofficial mayor and perhaps most beloved resident, will not be donning his Santa suit and making his annual ride through town.
He died Tuesday morning at age 88. The last thing he did was pack up the Santa outfit and ask that it be given to Chick Schulz, who has ridden with him in the sleigh for more than two decades.
Though Mr. Schulz vows to carry on Mr. Padfield's holiday tradition, he makes no pretense of trying to take his place.
How could he? There could be only one "Mr. Glen Burnie."
Born and raised near Pittsburgh, Mr. Padfield first saw Glen Burnie in 1926, when he was in the Coast Guard and his ship stopped in Curtis Bay. He and his wife, Gertrude, later bought a house on Delmar Avenue, and, after his retirement in 1952, he went into community service full-time.
From 1952 to 1986, he served as president of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association, working tirelessly to protect Glen Burnie from commercialism. He was active in the Glen Burnie Kiwanis Club and countless other service organizations.
He helped organize the local health center and served on boards and advisory committees for county agencies, charities -- anyone who sought his help.
For 34 years, Mr. Padfield was the driving force behind the annual Great Glen Burnie Carnival, a job that had him putting up carnival booths and supervising thousands of people.
Most of all, he was Santa.
Years ago, he would drive through town in his station wagon, handing out candy and visiting the children in every house. The routine altered slightly as Mr. Padfield grew older and the town grew bigger, but the magic never changed.
Last year, after he insisted on making his Christmas rounds despite a recent stroke, he rode on a sleigh built atop a pickup truck. From one end of town to the other, families waited on corners and front porches for him to pass.
Many small towns have someone who embodies the place itself, who knows everybody and does everything.
And yet, we have to think Glen Burnie was unusually lucky. Bill Padfield was an exceptionally good man who leaves a legacy of public service and many, many happy memories.