Community mourns passing of Darline Ray, local Christmas icon

CHIPLEY – Washington County lost one of its most iconic residents with the sudden passing of Darline Ray on Dec. 9.

Darline and her husband, Rex Ray, are known all over the Southeast United States for their Santa and Mrs. Claus persona, but here locally, they are best known for their love of their community. Rex says the community has returned that love over the past week.

“I am simply dumbfounded by the outpouring of support,” he said. “We could have moved anywhere, but we chose Chipley. We chose Washington County because we loved it so much. She truly loved the people here.”

As Washington County Tourism Development Council Executive Director, Heather Lopez coordinates many local events, with nearly every recent Christmas event having featured the Rays.

“I spent the last eight years working with Rex and Darline, and they became my friends,” said Lopez. “They both showed a tremendous love for this community and donated endless hours and ideas to help make our Chipley Christmas Fest a great holiday event for our local families. Darline was the best Mrs. Claus there ever was with a kind and loving heart and a selflessness that is indicative of the role. I will miss her greatly. Our community lost a very special lady. My heart goes out to our Santa, Rex. May you find solace in the love this community has for you both. May you find peace, my friend.”

In addition to her Mrs. Claus persona, Darline Ray found worldwide acclaim for her seamstress skills, having become sought-after for her custom Santa suits. The Rays converted their home into a sort-of Santa’s workshop to tailor costumes for thousands of Mr. and Mrs. Clauses across the world. One of Darline’s designs was featured in the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Parade, which is the nation’s oldest parade. 

The Rays have been “Santa and Mrs. Claus” together for more than 20 years. Going forward, Rex says he isn’t sure how he feels about being a Santa without his Mrs. Claus, the love of his life for more than 48 years.

“For the first time in a long time, I’m just not sure about it,” he said. “She was such a large part of what I do. I hope my heart will come back into it. It’s what she loved. She just wanted to give back to everyone around her. She loved life and loved people.”

A celebration of life will be held for Darline Ray on Saturday, Jan. 1 at 2 p.m. at 2801 Highview Trail in Chipley. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, a donation be made to her name to the Christmas Fest of Chipley, Inc, P.O. Box 732 Chipley, FL 32428.