Joe Farris loved Christmas, and he loved kids. What that love looked like in action was this: for more than half a century, Joe faithfully brought Christmas cheer to St. Jude patients not once but twice a year, in July and December.
Joe, who taught high school, made the trip to Memphis from Southwest Georgia in a van packed with gifts, with a Santa Claus suit and a check totaling the last six months of his fundraising for the hospital. The Santa suit he donned even in the oppressive heat and humidity of summertime. Anything to put a smile on the faces of children receiving treatment for cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
All told, Joe made over 100 visits to St Jude. They began the very year the hospital opened, in 1962, when Joe first rallied some helpers and chartered a bus to carry all the presents he’d collected.
But his support of St. Jude dates back further than that – all the way back to the 1950s, in fact, when Joe volunteered to help Danny Thomas, whom he counted as a friend, raise the money needed to build St. Jude.
Over the years, Joe’s visits became a St. Jude tradition, and Joe himself, known as “The St. Jude Santa Claus,” a figure of renown. On the occasion of Joe’s 100th visit to St. Jude, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. proclaimed Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, as Joe Farris Day.
Mr. Farris, though seemingly as ageless as the jolly old elf himself, made his last visit to St. Jude in December 2016. Yet his heart stayed with the cause, and his fundraising continued. This year, he was recognized as St. Jude Volunteer of the Year. Rick Shadyac, President and CEO of ALSAC, told him, “Of the millions who’ve answered Danny’s call over the years, you truly stand out as remarkable. You have created a legacy of support at St. Jude. And we are deeply grateful for all you’ve done.”
Joe passed away this November, but he lives on in his support of St. Jude’s mission, and in the memories of the many kids who knew him simply as Santa.