FRIENDS and family have been paying tribute to the man once known as the UK’s best Santa, who has died aged 72.
Stroud’s Roger Marshall brought joy into many lives, whether as a caring Father Christmas, a loyal member of Painswick Bowling Club or as a loving family man.
He died on Sunday, May 25 in hospital with his family by his side after an infection led to kidney failure.
Family members have been paying tribute to Roger – described by his son Robbie as "a great guy who had a massive presence".
“His death has left a great big hole that will never be filled,” he added.
Daughter Tracy Payne, 49, said: “He was a mountain of a man, a real Stroud legend.”
As a life-long fencing contractor, Roger came into the lives of many, but it was for his role as Father Christmas that he will be best remembered.
“It all started about 10-12 years ago when his white hair and white beard led to comparisons being made,” explained Tracy.
“We always used to get stopped in the street by children calling out ‘Santa’ and he would listen to their Christmas lists.”
However, it wasn’t just Roger’s appearance that marked him out as a great Santa but his kind and caring attitude, which was particularly shown in the way he helped an autistic boy learn to love Christmas.
The boy’s family had struggled to get their son interested in any festivities, but after spending time with Roger as Santa, Christmas was all the boy wanted to talk about. After ceremonially shaving his long beard on Boxing Day, Roger would grow it again in the spring ahead of a packed schedule in November and December where he would frequently appear in local schools, the Merrywalks Shopping Centre in Stroud and Blooms Garden Centre in Haresfield.
He also turned on Stroud’s Christmas lights on numerous occasions at the annual Goodwill celebrations.
His community heroics led to wide recognition and on his 71st birthday.
He appeared on ITV 1’s Morning alongside Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield after being named the UK’s best Santa in a competition run by the programme.
He was selected above 811 entrants for the title.
Amazingly, this was Roger’s first time on a train and his first journey to London.
He was a man who disliked change and lived the majority of his life in Paganhill Lane, Stroud after growing up in Summer Street.
From a large family, where he was one of eight children, Roger leaves behind his wife of 50 years, Mary – known to many as Mary Christmas – and another son, Simon.
He also had six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren with two more on the way.
Roger’s funeral will be held on Friday, June 6 at Gloucester Crematorium, with a reception afterwards at Forest Green Rovers football stadium – the club he supported.
Between 150 and 200 people are expected to attend.
The family plan to take his ashes out with them while they enjoy a meal of his favourite fish and chips on Father’s Day.
When he wasn’t donning the red coat and boots, Roger was also keen to donate blood – something he believed everyone should do.
He donated blood 99 times – which meant he was one session short of achieving his ambition of gaining a 100th donation certificate.
Roger was also a big supporter of The Family Haven.
This is a Gloucester charity which helps disadvantaged families.