Four decades of playing Santa comes to end
Although they might not remember his name, most everyone in Carson City likely met Gary Ashby. They probably just called him Santa.
From the time he wrote his first Christmas story, “The Magic of Christmas,” while serving in the Air Force in Korea, Ashby was enamored with the holiday.
Playing Santa Claus, said his wife, Liz, was a natural fit.
“He just loved children,” she said. “Children always came over to our house to play. From the time our children were old enough, we always had kids over. And Gary was always out there teaching them, showing them stars.”
About 38 years ago, Ashby started dressing up at Kris Kringle for schools, plays and other events.
For the past three years, he handed out toys and candy and posed for pictures in the Carson Mall. Before that, he was the Santa Claus for the Park Lane Mall in Reno.
He also rode in the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony, Silver & Snowflakes Festival of Lights, as Santa Claus in a Model T driven by a dog.
He had planned to do it again this year, but Ashby, 58, died unexpectedly Oct. 28 following a bout with what his family thought was a sinus infection.
The couple met when Ashby played with the high school band while on leave from the military a year after he graduated. Liz was 15. He was 19.
“We were just each other’s best friends,” she said. “We talked about everything. He’s the only person I’ve ever been with.”
After 37 years of marriage, four children and six grandchildren, it’s hard to let him go.
“I keep thinking it’s not real,” she said.
Their most recent venture together was to become foster parents.
“He loved doing that,” Liz said. “He loved having children here.”
Suzanne Wright, who worked with the couple through the Division of Child and Family Services, called Ashby “a great human being.”
“It makes a huge difference for our kids,” Wright said. “You can see the drastic change in the children who end up with foster parents like Gary and Liz. The difference in the three children who are in the home is just remarkable.”
Liz said she plans to continue working with foster children.
“This is what we started together. This is what I’m going to continue,” she said.
Ashby also enjoyed working with alternative energy and video production. He worked on several projects with the local cable access station including a documentary about AIDS.
A memorial service for Ashby will be at 3 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Silver Oak Golf Course.
Among his survivors are his wife; children Gary Michael Ashby of Dayton, Dianne Csoto of Moorpark, Calif., Karyn Ashby of Medford, Ore., and Dan Ashby of Roseburg, Ore.; and grandchildren Vanessa, Sydney, Megan, Miles, Nathanial and Anikka.