Ballina mourns its Santa: Tributes flow for Pat Kennedy
FOR Northern Rivers residents, Pat Kennedy, 83, was the embodiment of Santa Claus.
But for Jeanette Kennedy, Pat was the love of her life.
After 27 years bringing Christmas joy to families and 33 years married to Jeanette, Pat Kennedy passed away on Saturday, October 17, after a long illness.
Originally from Armidale, Pat and Jeanette met through an organisation that connected people with complementary skills.
“If a man needed special meals cooked they found someone to cook them for him and if a woman needed some handy work done in the house, they found help, and at that time I lived on a 12-acre farm and Pat had a slasher so he came and slashed the paddock for me,” she said.
In 1989, the Kennedys moved to Ballina, and in the early 1990s Pat saw Christmas lights for the first time while driving back from the Gold Coast.
“We were coming home from the Gold Coast, we had been to our daughter’s place, and we were driving through Tugun, we saw all the lights on the hills and he said, ‘let’s go and have a look at them’,” Mrs Kennedy said.
“First time he had ever seen Christmas lights.
“He said to me, ‘You know love? I’d really like to try them one day’.”
That was the beginning of almost three decades of Christmas joy for Ballina and the Northern Rivers, with the Kennedys installing up to 200,000 lights at their home and thousands of people from around the country enjoying the display.
Pat would not only set up the lights, he would install displays, and he would dress as Santa and greet children and parents, give them lollies with a smile.
A public memorial was held recently in Ballina, while Mr Kennedy’s funeral was private.
Mrs Kennedy said to be surprised by the level of public admiration and love for the couple.
“It’s quite outstanding, I can’t believe it,” she said.
“I’ve had cards on my letterbox from people I don’t even know, people who were here as children and were bringing their children recently; also from grandparents and parents.
“I knew the lights were popular with people but I didn’t think they were this popular.”
Just before being admitted to hospital two weeks ago, Pat Kennedy was able to install thousands of lights at his West Ballina home, and Jeanette Kennedy said the lights will go on one more time this year.
“Just don't expect anything up on the roof,” she said.
“I know it’s what he wanted and with some help from people of Ballina, we will do it.”