Local resident Linwood Tyner is a humorous and jolly person. The jolly transcends from the red cheeks, long white beard and bushy hair he sports that resembles another jolly, old character we know as Santa.
After three million miles on the road as a long-distance truck driver, Tyner set off on a new career 16 years ago, making appearances as Santa. After many engagements and many Ho Ho’s during mall engagements during the Christmas season, Tyner has made it nationally with a new gig for firstSTREET, the leading direct marketer of innovative products for senior citizens. Tyner will appear in firstSTREET’s Christmas catalog due out in October, promoting their popular products.
Tyner was dressed in his personalized red-velvet suit with white mink trim a couple of weeks ago and ready to begin his holiday season carrying his Santa chair, toys and his copy of “Twas’ the Night Before Christmas” to Chester’s local firstSTREET catalog location. The three-hour shoot at firstSTREET located in the Walthall Industrial Center was mostly shot in front of a green screen highlighting firstSTREET’s products, but Tyner’s props did come in handy with camera shots of him in his chair as well as reading his Christmas book.
Located at 1998 Ruffin Mill Rd., firstSTREET’s products are advertised in virtually all of America’s major consumer magazines, and marketed to their house file of over 2.5 million customers (average age–65) with their monthly catalog. Their award-winning websites attract millions of visitors per year... ranking it as one of the top “Boomer and Beyond” destination sites on the internet. Locals are invited during opening hours to stop in and try out some of their popular items like the WOW computer, the Perfect Sleep Chair and their Perfect Choice HD™ Personal Sound Amplification product. Visitors can also buy the products at the Walthall location and save on shipping and handling.
FirstSTREET’s In-house photographer, Carl Kersey, connected with Tyner for the shoot. “We usually go to stock photography and add a lot of stuff. Today we got pretty,” he said about having Tyner in his studio. Kersey has been the company’s in-house photographer for eight years. He said he has been driving past Tyner’s house for the last five years three or four times a week. “I kept seeing the sign that read Santa Claus Lane at the end of driveway [in Chester],” he said. Thinking about his upcoming Christmas catalog he added, “I have got to call this one. We did and we got our Santa.” Tyner was pretty thrilled with the job as well. “I was blown slam out of the water,” he said. I always wanted to do something national.”
Tyner first got the tag name of “Santa” while driving the long distances on the road with other truckers. One day he said to himself that he was going to quit shaving. The beard grew as well as his grey/white head of hair and when truckers passed him on the road they would radio other drivers telling them to be on the look-out for Santa.
“They would say, ‘I know what Santa does during his time off,’” said Tyner. Tyner has driven through 48 of the 50 States and retired from Consolidated as a tractor-trailer driver in 2011 at the age of 71.
Before retirement Tyner got his first offer to play Santa in 1998. He was spotted by the theater owner at Virginia Commons Mall. “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” was getting ready to open. “They asked if I wanted to help advertise the movie opening. No pay. I had a suit made which was awful - cheaply made. Fur didn’t look like fur, but I was proud as could be being Santa Claus.” In 1999 he was spotted by Southpark Mall’s mall coordinator. “She saw me and said ‘wait I need you’ and asked me to be Santa Claus at their Christmas display.” Tyner was one of their Santa’s for three years. Tyner was also Alan Furs’ Santa in a Christmas commercial for two seasons. He met up with the owner when he went to see if they could put rabbit fur for trim on his Santa suit. After he laughed at him and told him he could do better, mink became the choice for the trim and used it as trade for his work in the commercial. Tyner now has two custom-made Santa’s suits with mink fur that cost him $1,000 each and valued at $5,000 for insurance purposes. Tyner went on to star in a Haynes commercial during another Christmas season and began working as Commonwealth Photography’s Santa for their Christmas photos.
Meanwhile, at 74, Tyner continues to take engagements for private parties, Santa Breakfasts and any commercial work that comes along. His only day off is Christmas Eve. With four children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren he said, “I always save Christmas Eve for home.” His wife of 35 years, Mary Ann Tyner, said, “It wouldn’t be Christmas without our Santa. The whole family comes over every Christmas Eve. He saves that night for us. Our grandchildren even call him Santa with one of them saying ‘my grandfather is Santa.’”
Tyner has no plans for retirement. “I will never retire from playing Santa,” he said. “It is the most fun job for me and it keeps me happy. So if you see a big red Cadillac around Chester with a white bushy beard and hair, that’s Chester’s resident Santa during off-duty times.
For more information about your season holiday event, you can contact Linwood Tyner a.k.a. Santa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 804-512-4840.