Eric Schmitt-Matzen looks every bit the part of Santa Claus. His 6-foot frame carries 310 pounds, leaving “just enough of a lap for the kids to sit on,” he says with a gentle Kringley chuckle right out of Central Casting. He’s professionally trained. Custom-tailored in red. Was born on Dec. 6 (that’s Saint Nicholas Day, of course; are you surprised?) Works approximately 80 gigs annually. Wife Sharon plays an authentic Mrs. Claus. His cellphone, with a “Jingle Bells” ringtone, continually counts down the days until Christmas. Even his civilian attire always includes Santa suspenders. The whole shtick is designed to spread joy and have fun. Which it does – except for the role he played several weeks ago at a local hospital. “I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen told me. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive. “My wife and I were scheduled to visit our grandchildren in Nashville the next day, but I told her to go by herself. I was a basket case for three days. It took me a week or two to stop thinking about it all the time. Actually, I thought I might crack up and never be able to play the part again.” This is what happens when a terminally ill child dies in Santa’s arms. “I’d just gotten home from work that day,” recalled Schmitt-Matzen, 60, a mechanical engineer and president of Packing Seals & Engineering in Jacksboro. “The telephone rang. It was a nurse I know who works at the hospital. She said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus.
Read what happened next.