Richmond's 'Legendary Santa' of 50 years passes away


By Zach Armstrong

PETERSBURG, Va -- Dan Rowe, known in the Richmond area as “Legendary Santa,” first at the old Miller & Rhoads department store downtown and eventually at the Children’s Museum of Richmond, died on Dec. 13 at the age of 93.

During the duration of his half-century career bringing Christmas joy to children, Rowe made appearances at numerous hospitals, parties, the Virginia Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting and also appeared numerous times in the annual Richmond Christmas Toy Parade. Rowe had taken up the job in 1966 and participated every holiday season until he retired at age 89.

According to accounts given to the Richmond Times Dispatch, Rowe had a remarkable memory for the names of people, loved visits from grandchildren of kids he saw decades earlier and was visited by families traveling from outside the state to see him. He was inducted into the International Santa Claus Hall of Fame in 2011 for his career.

Rowe graduated from John Marshall High before entering the Navy right before the end of World War II. During the 1960s, he worked for an insurance company until his brother, who held the job of playing Santa at the time, left Richmond for an acting career in New York. Rowe had taken over his brother’s swimming pool business and role as St. Nick.

During his duration in the Santa role, he saw an estimated 600,000 children according to a Children’s Museum spokesperson to the Richmond-Times Dispatch who based the numbers on annual attendance figures.

One of the reasons Rowe had felt sharing joy so important was because he had his share of hard experiences. He outlived two wives, and his son, Danny, who died in an accidental drowning incident in 1974 at the age of 4.

Rowe made numerous contributions to his local community. He served as the public address announcer and scorekeeper for Hermitage High School baseball games and went into business along with his two sons at the Plating shop his father-in-law founded. He was a resident of Henrico County.

According to his family who spoke to the Richmond Times Dispatch, Rowe is survived by his daughters Susan and Laura; sister Jane; two sons Steven and David; six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.