You probably never met Walt Queen. If you did meet him, you would have remembered. You never forget meeting the real Saint Nicholas.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our story begins in Louisville, Kentucky, 1989. In a courtroom. The man sitting in the front row near the plaintiff’s table is Walt. He’s the one with the bushy gray beard and rosy face. You can tell he’s been crying.
His two daughters, ages 18 and 20, were heading home from work one night. They entered Spaghetti Junction, where I-64, I-65, and I-71 intersect on the northeastern part of town when a semi-trailer smashed into a barrier and lost its cargo. Queen’s daughters took a direct hit. The young women were killed instantly.
The courtroom fell silent as the judge was about to pass sentence. The truck driver sat with head lowered. His life was over. The verdict would be reckless homicide; up to 20 years in prison.
But then something happened.
There was a stir in the courtroom. It was Walt. He stood. He addressed the court. He asked the judge to overturn the sentence. Walt begged the judge to let the man who killed his girls go free.
“Today,” Walt said to the truck driver, “my wife and I release you. We are not angry at you. We do not hate you. We forgive you.”
And if there was a dry eye left in Jefferson County, Kentucky, it was made of brass.
The judge granted Walt’s request. That same year, Walt’s wife decorated their house for Christmas. Christmas was surreal, visceral, an almost unreal experience. So the family kept Christmas going. Almost like a perpetual memorial.
“We left decorations up for ten years,” Walt’s wife remembers, “and the lights didn’t go out, not one time.”
That’s sort of when it all happened. One December a friend asked Walt to play Santa and deliver a puppy to his daughter. Sure, Walt said. Why not.
Walt drove to the girl’s house and knocked on the door. The door opened. Before him stood a little girl. Walt almost started weeping.
“When she saw me,” Walt said, “it was magical. It was almost more than I could bear, emotionally.”
And that is how Walt Queen became the most sought after Santa in Kentuckiana.
He was a veritable icon in Louisville. He did about 60 events per year, from Bass Pro Shops to TV appearances. He incanted smiles. He made people laugh. And he allowed children of all ages, creeds and denominations the opportunity to shatter his meniscus.
“What most people don’t realize if they haven’t met Walt is that he didn’t just put on a suit and smile for the camera,” said Walt’s lead elf, Whitney. “Walt embodied every single thing one thinks about when they think of Christmas and the spirit of Santa.”
Then came last year.
In early December, Walt was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma. Things went downhill quickly. The cancer spread across his body, and by the time treatment started, it was a little too late. He underwent two rounds of chemo. Then immunotherapy. His cotton-white hair started falling out by the fistful.
One afternoon, Walt visited the Beards and Beers local barbershop. Walt told the stylist he wanted her to shave his beard off.
“Take it off?” said the stylist.
“We’ve got to,” Walt said. “It’s coming out in clumps.”
Forty-five years he wore a beard. But on that day Santa left the barbershop with smooth cheeks.
And the dominoes kept falling. His health deteriorated. His strength left him. His friends gathered around his bedside to hold his hand, just to hear him offer a weak “Ho, ho, ho.”
“He wasn’t just a Santa impersonator,” said a 34-year-old who remembers his first visit with Walt. “That man WAS Santa Claus.”
The young man remembers taking his son to visit Santa one year in a crowded public place. While he was waiting in line, Walt singled him out of the crowd. Walt asked the young father whether he was okay.
The man began to weep and told Walt that, no, he was not okay. His wife had just passed away, and the man was barely hanging on.
Walt rose from his throne and embraced the young father. He prayed with the man publicly. He held the young man against his red-velvet chest.
“It’s what you would have expected from a saint.”
A few days ago, early in the morning, Walt became a canonized saint when he rejoined his daughters.
But make no mistake, Walt is not dead. Not even close. He lives. Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
Sandi. - May 1, 2022 6:46 am
Oh my, this story is a true tearjerker, and I didn’t even know Walt.
🇿🇦🇿🇦Norma Den - May 1, 2022 7:36 am
God bless Walt & his wife. I may have this quote incorrect, but it ends with the words, As long as people believe there is still good in the world Santa is alive and real. Tears flowing in South Africa, lovely story.
oldlibrariansshelf - May 1, 2022 8:21 am
When one can forgive as Christ forgives, then that person surely embodies the spirit of Christmas. Yes, Walt was and is Santa.
Christine - May 1, 2022 10:38 am
Walt Queen has met King Jesus. He truly was a strong man of God to be able to forgive such a loss.
God bless his wife.
Betty F. - May 1, 2022 11:22 am
Well. You’ve done it again. I am a pitiful pile of tears.
Kathy - May 1, 2022 11:25 am
Wow. And the last line from the “Yes, Virginia. There Is. A Santa Claus.” letter is a gorgeous ending. Never let anyone tell you, Sean, that you aren’t a writer of the greatest talent.
Joy Jacobs - May 1, 2022 11:30 am
Paul McCutchen - May 1, 2022 11:38 am
The Pollen is high again here in Georgia.
Marilyn - May 1, 2022 11:57 am
And the pollen is high in Ohio as well, Paul.
Santa Mike RVA - May 1, 2022 11:50 am
Thank you Sean, I did not know Santa Walt. But he, and your story, are an inspiration to all of us who wear the red suit.
Cheryl Andrews - May 1, 2022 12:21 pm
Wow! No words left to say
Walt said it all with the way he lived his life! Thanks, Sean. We need more people like Walt and people like you
Deacon Nick - May 1, 2022 12:52 pm
In our prayer to “Our Father” we ask Him to forgive our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us. As followers of Christ, forgiveness is NOT optional! We MUST forgive others or Our Father cannot forgive our sins. Most of us have someone whom we think: I can never forgive that person! And apart from Christ, we can not. But through Christ we can and must forgive ALL who have sinned against us. Walt is a great example for each of us. Never forget: before we knew Him, Christ forgave us all of our sins from the Cross.
Barbara Culwell - May 1, 2022 2:14 pm
Yes…. Thank you JESUS for how you have forgiven us!
Greg Cleveland - May 1, 2022 12:58 pm
DeeDee - May 1, 2022 1:10 pm
Thank you for sharing the story of this precious human being. 💖
Shelton A. - May 1, 2022 1:10 pm
Thanks be to God that He blesses us with people like Walt. St. Nick…I do believe so. God bless and thanks so very much for sharing Walt’s story. It makes you sad how it ends but everything else is just joy.
Julie, RN - May 1, 2022 1:14 pm
Walt is one in a million, and so are you, Sean💚❤️
Bkr - May 1, 2022 1:16 pm
Ok you made me cry again. I am one of those weirdo grownups who really believe in Santa. Just like you described. This was so good!
Jan - May 1, 2022 1:20 pm
As always … tears for a great story! Thank you, Sean.
Ellen read - May 1, 2022 1:21 pm
Champ837 - May 1, 2022 1:40 pm
Yes, there are some among us!
Sue Rhodus - May 1, 2022 1:52 pm
and to all..a good night !
Amy Rogers - May 1, 2022 1:55 pm
Sean, ťhis is beautifully powerful. You’ve eulogized this man to this point that we now know him intimately. Thank you for this sweet introduction. ❤🎅
Barbara Culwell - May 1, 2022 2:12 pm
Ohhh what a wonderful story. Just love this. Thank you.
Cathy M - May 1, 2022 2:40 pm
Forgiveness is a gift one’s self. Walt’s story should be heard around the world. Not only did he forgive the person who was responsible for the death of his two precious daughters, he spent the rest of his life making magic for other children . Saint? For sure and seated on the front row in heaven. Thank you for the gift of Walt’s story priceless💙🙏🏻🎅🏻
Mary Louise Griffin - May 1, 2022 2:43 pm
2 for 2 Sean. Running out of Kleenex. I have often wondered how it feels to be able to use words so powerfully that they cause people to laugh out loud or weep with a breaking heart. How does it feel to touch people like that? Thanks for the daily reminder, whether laughter or tears, that we are all human. Whatever “this” is, and it might and often does change on a daily basis, we’re all in it together. Thanks for caring enough to remind us.
Patricia Gibson - May 1, 2022 5:27 pm
What a beautiful story and what a blessing to all!
Ellouise - May 1, 2022 5:54 pm
Wondrous! Not merely wonderful
MAM - May 1, 2022 5:55 pm
Leaky eyes here, too. You, Sean, have a great God-given talent to find out about these people and tell us their stories in a way that makes them so real in our mind’s eye. Thanks!
Maggie Priestaf - May 1, 2022 6:01 pm
Thank you, Sean…again. My husband is a “real live” Santa and this man’s story is something he can an relate to over and over.
Suellen - May 1, 2022 6:37 pm
From my home here in Kentuckiana I can verify that Walt Queen was a legend.
Linda Moon - May 1, 2022 6:53 pm
I never met Walt Queen. But I had an Uncle Walt who I loved a lot. And this love you told us about made me search my soul to find love and grace and hope from memories of Uncle Walt (aka “Brother”), Walt (aka “Saint “Nicholas”) and the writer of God’s story here (aka “Sean of the South)”.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - May 1, 2022 7:05 pm
Dawnie B - May 2, 2022 12:14 am
Thank you for sharing the story of a great Saint. His was an exemplary life to so many people and I imagine he was greeted by a huge crowd in Heaven!
milesofivey - May 2, 2022 12:16 am
I’ve got to stop reading these posts when I’m out in public. I almost lost it in this Mexican restaurant. Come on, fella! I’ve just moved here. A total stranger in a small town can’t just start bawling over his tamale and chimichanga combo with rice and beans. You are incredibly gifted. It bears repeating…gifted. Thanks for continually sharing about the “ordinary” doing the extraordinary. ❤️
Sharon Crane - May 2, 2022 1:36 am
This is the best story EVER! I love it so much.
Thank you for sharing.
Sherry Clairday - May 2, 2022 5:01 pm
My husband died in 2017 of the same virulent disease. They told him usually children get this disease. I said he was a kid @ heart. His beautiful curly hair fell out in clumps. He like Walt went to his barbershop and had his head shaved . My husband fought this disease for 5 years. We thought he had beat it. He even got to ring the bell @ MDAnderson hospital, indicating he had won but sadly no. The last 5 months were terrible but he kept his faith until New Years eve 2017. My granddaughter, aged 8 going on 32, asked our Pastor, “what’s the difference between our house home and our heavenly home.”
Pastor said our heavenly home is forever but house home is only temporary.
rlangford5270ac16bd - May 2, 2022 6:12 pm
My comment is going to be more of a “story” – because this “story” about WALT made such an impact upon me personally !!!
A little more than 35 years ago, my youngest daughter – a 19 year old beautiful young woman – was killed in a car crash – by a 19 year old young man who was substantially drunk. He went through a red light in Colorado Springs and t-boned through her door. She was killed instantly. (That call in the middle of the night that every parent hopes and prays they never receive !!)
Later in the morning after I visited the hospital to identify her, I went back home and laid down. And I received a very strong message – which I saw as in a banner of lights spelling out – Focus on the Love !! And it repeated over and over again . . . “Focus on the Love”.
As a result my wife and I made a recommendation to the court, that placing this young man in prison for 5 or more years would NOT be the thing to do. We seriously thought about what this young man would be like WHEN he came out of prison after 5 years. So we recommended that he be placed on probation and NOT put in prison. The judge
granted our request.
Long story short – because I had successfully raced serious sports cars nationally before that time, I started a Driving Skills program for teens which teaches the skills of car control – dynamic control of 4,000 pounds of metal in motion – like a sports camp. (It is called MasterDrive – and you can look at what we do on line – masterdrive.com.) They learn by “doing”. That training has now been conducted for more than 130,000 kids, and has saved the limbs and lives of many, many young people.
So you can see why this story of WALT made such an impact upon me. And the thing that WALT was able to do, was to focus on the LOVE, rather than the LOSS. To Focus on the LOVE – rather than the HATE !! Thanks for your presentation of WALT’S story !!! Maybe it can help some other parents who have experienced this loss !!
Anne Trawick - May 2, 2022 9:34 pm
I hate it when you make me weep in public.
Lisa Heileman - May 4, 2022 1:34 pm
What a lovely tribute. I am blessed to a member of the Michigan Association of Professional Santas, and yes, many of these gents, and Mrs. Clauses are truly THE ones. I jeep them all in my prayers. When you attend an event, and there are a multitude of Santas, we say to kids that you know which Santa is real in your heart. . Keep on scribing..
Brant Riley - May 4, 2022 1:38 pm
Nailed it. What a great story Sean. Thanks.
levelyn03 - May 5, 2022 4:18 pm
Thank you for your writings. I so much enjoy reading every one of them. Please keep it up.
Dale Parsons - May 10, 2022 6:35 pm
Julie - June 9, 2022 7:19 pm
We loved Santa Walt. We lived in the same town and had him for Christmas times with kids (of all ages), even had him in July once for “Christmas in July”, where Santa Walt was in his red pants and Hawaiian Santa shirt doing the limbo. Oh how we miss him!