After 15 years playing the role of Mrs. Claus, Jessie Brown will hang up her red dress and cap for the final time. The 74-year-old said she's enjoyed her run, which has included standing by Santa's side for at least a decade in the Conyers Christmas parade Saturday.
Jessie Brown as Mrs. Claus poses with her first Santa, Bernie Bourdon, in this 1998 photo.
CONYERS -- After 15 years playing the role of Mrs. Claus, Jessie Brown will hang up her red dress and cap for the final time. The 74-year-old said she's enjoyed her run, which has included standing by Santa's side for at least a decade in the Conyers Christmas parade. She's also made appearances at countless tree lightings and events with Santa at churches, day cares and schools.
Saturday's Hometown Christmas Parade in Conyers marked one of her last appearances as Santa's right hand lady.
"The most touching thing and the real reason I enjoyed being Mrs. Claus year after year, even when in the parade my fingers were frozen, was because of the children and how excited they were and how wide-eyed they were," said Brown.
"Santa Claus is the bright spot of their season. It was a heartwarming feeling I got just to know that we were making the children happy."
Brown credits the late Bernie Bourdon with inspiring her to take on the role of Mrs. Claus. A well-known Conyers community volunteer and Santa in the Conyers Christmas parade, Bourdon asked her to be his Mrs. Claus in 1996.
She agreed, and made history as the first Mrs. Claus ever to be in the Conyers parade. The Kiwanis Club of Conyers paid for her costume, which still fits her after 15 years.
Over the years, she's worked with seven Santas, including this year's Conyers parade Santa, Tom Harrison.
During her tenure serving as Santa's assistant, Brown has fielded many questions from curious children. When they comment that her hair looks like a wig, she responds with, "I'm having a bad hair day." If they inquire as to why she isn't fat like Santa, she tells them she's on a diet.
"Children come up with remarks and you have to think fast," she said.
While children wait in line to see Santa, Brown gives them candy, asks for their names and reassures them if they seem afraid of the man in the big red suit. She's also learned why Santa often holds children's hands.
"They love to pull Santa's beard," she said.
In addition to the parades, Brown has aided in Santa photo shoots, helped with breakfasts with Santa, read "Twas the Night Before Christmas" to groups of children, taken children on shopping expeditions sponsored by civic clubs and baked chocolate chip cookies for Santa events.
Brown volunteers for most assignments, but sometimes she receives a modest pay.
"I just do it because I enjoy it and it's fun," she said.
She said some of her favorite times with Santa came when she and the big man would go out to dinner after an event. Children would swarm around to talk with Santa and adults smiled with surprise.
"One time Bernie and I went down to the Greek restaurant and we were walking arm-in-arm down the street and all these people honked and waved; it was a really warm feeling," said Brown.
A native of California and resident of Conyers for 36 years, Brown ran a marketing promotions company for 18 years before retiring in 2002. She has a daughter and two grandchildren (ages 4 and 7, who don't yet know about her Mrs. Claus character) and is married to Louis "LT" Brown, whom she met ballroom dancing 12 years ago.
She is active in the Master Gardener program and in the Ebenezer United Methodist Church Prime Timers.
While being Mrs. Claus is rewarding, it's also time consuming, a factor which led to her retirement from the role.
"The older I get, the more friends I collect," said Brown. "I just felt like it's time to spend more time with my husband and I would like to entertain more and see friends more."
She's not particularly sentimental about the end of her Mrs. Claus career, though she might miss that moment when she sees her husband waiting at the corner of Main Street and Milstead Avenue for her to pass by with Santa in the big red fire engine.
"When I curtsy, he waves," she said.