One of my favorite activities to do with a tour group at the AANM is to take them into our Making an Impact exhibit, gather them around a case with an opaque glass cover, and tell them about Robert George. I tell them that Robert George worked at the White House under six presidents, and then ask what job they think he had. I always receive a variety of answers, but nobody ever gets it right. When I press the button to reveal what is behind the glass, I always hear gasps of surprise – Robert George was the White House Santa Claus!
Born in Nebraska in 1924 to Lebanese parents, Robert George started out as a barber before donning a Santa suit in 1949. His performance as Santa became well known, and in 1956 he was invited to the White House by President Eisenhower. He continued to act as Santa Claus at the White House for Presidents John F. Kennedy, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. Illness prevented him from working with President Clinton, and he passed away in 1998 at the age of 74.
Robert George was also known for having a year-round display of Christmas decoration at his home in California, and for his good works in the name of Santa Claus. He often made visits to hospitals, community centers, orphanages and nursing homes, including bringing gifts to disadvantaged children. According to an interview with his wife, he owned 38 different Santa suits for these visits as well as two regular suits in bright red! One of those Santa suits, along with a number of other artifacts and photographs, was donated to the AANM by his daughter in 2004.
Of course, Robert George wasn’t only Santa to the President – below is a photograph of him with another Lebanese American, and subject of our An Enduring Legacy: Danny Thomas and ALSAC/St. Jude:
Merry Christmas from the AANM!