Richmond's final farewell to Sergeant Santa

By Nicole Bell - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A final farewell on Wednesday for the man known for bringing Christmas cheer to thousands of children in Richmond.

Ricky Duling, better know as Sergeant Santa, passed away last month. This afternoon, loved ones came together to celebrate his life.

It felt and looked like Christmas at the service.   There was a decorated tree and toys that will be donated during the holiday season.

A fitting tribute to a man who  loved ones say worked tirelessly on behalf of underprivileged children.

"He wanted to make sure those children that were in a situation where Christmas wouldn't happen for them -- he wanted to make it special for them," said Darren Duling, Sergeant Santa's son.

Hundreds turned out to say goodbye and thank you.

"I'll really miss my friend and there's a void in my heart because he's gone," said family friend, "Mr. Christmas."

"He just did a fabulous job caring for anybody that he could," said family friend, "Santa Paul."

For more than 30 years Sergeant Santa handed out donated gifts to needy children in Richmond.

"He had become so...people would look for him, where is he if he wasn't out there , people felt something was missing and quite frankly it truly is -- I'll miss him," said former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder.

Family members say Sergeant Santa grew up during the depression and didn't have much -- a holiday hardship he didn't want other kids to endure.

Sergeant Santa was also a Richmond Police detective, a job loved ones say was his heart and soul.

"Whether it was a present or a hug he had it for them in droves," said Duling.

Friends, family members, even strangers say, Sergeant Santa may be gone -- but his memory will live on.

Sergeant Santa was 84 years of age.

Copyright 2010 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.