They came to the funeral yesterday not just to say goodbye to Bill Padfield, but to say thank you.
More than 100 friends, family members and community officials gave thanks for his helping unwed mothers at the local health center, for his aid to disaster victims as a member of the Red Cross and for his other tireless community work that earned him the nickname the "unofficial mayor of Glen Burnie."
Most of all, they thanked him for playing Santa Claus. For 55 years, he was the Glen Burnie Santa, making rounds every Christmas Eve, even after a stroke.
So it was appropriate that Jo Gromley, the senior nurse at the Glen Burnie Health Center, recalled the Christmas spirit in her eulogy for the 88-year-old Mr. Padfield, who died Tuesday of pneumonia.
She figured Mr. Padfield is in heaven, offering Saint Nicholas some pointers: " 'Saint Nicholas, this is how we do it in Glen Burnie.'
"This is probably the first time Saint Nicholas is getting advice on how to do this job," Ms. Gromley said.
Mr. Padfield wore his Santa suit for the last time at the Glen Burnie Christmas lighting ceremony Dec. 9. Many who came to his funeral at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association hall said that was the last time they saw Mr. Padfield alive.
The man some called "Mr. Glen Burnie" moved to the community in the early 1930s when the Coast Guard transferred him to Curtis Bay.
Among various activities, Mr. Padfield was president of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association for 34 years, headed the Glen Burnie Carnival for 35 years and headed the Glen Burnie Health center for 42 years.
"What can you say about a man who has led the life he did?" said his son, Bill Padfield Jr., who lives in Florida and followed his father's footsteps in the Coast Guard, retiring in the elder Mr. Padfield's uniform in 1972.
"I think his actions speak for themselves," the 60-year-old son said. "I don't know anybody who didn't like him, and I don't know anybody he didn't like."
Among the multitude of flowers at the funeral was a bouquet shaped like Santa Claus from the Glen Burnie Improvement Association.
The Rev. R. Olin Herndon of Glen Burnie United Methodist Church, who officiated, said "everything in this town had his touch."
Others who spoke found it difficult to express themselves.
"There is nothing that I could say that all of you here don't already know yourselves," said Henry Hein, a longtime friend.
"He cared so much for Glen Burnie because he wanted it to be a fine place to live. It was a driving force in his life."
Another close friend, Roy Rapp Jr., recalled that Mr. Padfield never wanted to bother anyone, even last week when he wanted to drive himself to Fort Meade's Kimbrough Army Hospital, where he died.
This Christmas, another friend, Chick Schulz, will wear Mr. Padfield's Santa Claus suit.
But he won't take the place of the original.
"Glen Burnie will not be the same without Bill Padfield," Mr. Herndon said. "There will be an emptiness in many people's lives in this community."
But the nurse at the health center, Ms. Gromley, urged people to remember the good times. She had all 100 people shout, "Good morning, Merry Christmas!" before her eulogy.
"Thank you, Bill Padfield," she said. "We will miss you, but good morning to you and Merry Christmas in heaven."