Edward Rooney

Edward Rooney is the news editor at the Herald on Sunday.

Photo recall: Road Santa an arresting sight

Traffic cop wanted to put a friendly face to the blue uniform so hit on the idea of a Santa suit

Hobson says the drivers and passengers thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle and he got more than a kick out of it too. Photo / Paul Estcourt, Photo Researcher / Chris Marriner
Hobson says the drivers and passengers thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle and he got more than a kick out of it too. Photo / Paul Estcourt, Photo Researcher / Chris Marriner

Hell-ho, hell-ho, hell-ho. What have we here then?

Former senior sergeant Wally Hobson was an annual fixture on the North Shore for more than a decade in his police blue Santa suit.

He raised many a chuckle on points duty at the intersection of Oteha Valley and East Coast roads, clearly as a goodwill gesture from the police, but not a lot of people knew why Hobson came up with the popular stunt in the first place.

Now retired, Hobson, 69, says he'd been head of the community policing team for some time and was concerned about the frosty reception beat constables received.

"We'd be walking through malls and people would be frightened to talk to you," he says. "So I came up with the idea of a Santa suit for a police officer."

Hobson requisitioned a roll of police uniform material and had the suit professionally cut. He took the $375 invoice to his boss, former police commander now Auckland councillor George Wood.

"Then I thought, what do I do with it?" Hobson says.

The idea came to him in a flash, perhaps placed there by St Nick himself.

Each morning of the week before Christmas, he'd head out to a new intersection, turn off the traffic lights and proceed to rescue the motorists.

Hobson says the drivers and passengers thoroughly enjoyed the spectacle and he got more than a kick out of it too.

"On one occasion, I was there for about three hours and I had so many presents around my feet, I had to do several trips to get them all off the road before I could turn the lights back on."

Hobson admits there may have been a "wee bit" of trouble with the traffic by the time he'd flicked the traffic lights back into action.

In between traffic engagements, Hobson and his suit was also a fixture at the North Shore police staff Christmas parties and kindergartens during the festive season.

Wood says Wally and his suit epitomised the concept of a community policeman with a commitment to the job.

"His great forte was traffic policing. I remember driving him somewhere and he gave me tips about my driving.

"He obviously took good care of the suit because it always looked brand new."

Despite retiring in 2008, Hobson hasn't entirely put his feet up. He goes to the gym three days of the week and it takes him three hours to mow the lawns on his large property at Albany, north of Auckland.

And what became of the suit? Hobson still has it, but not for much longer.

He's been speaking with current Police Commissioner Peter Marshall and the suit will be headed for the Police Museum at Paremata, near Wellington.

- Herald on Sunday

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