Rob Figley, who brought joy to children and adults alike as Santa Claus and a wedding officiant, died Saturday night in Vancouver. He was 57.
He looked the part and worked as Santa for 15 years, his wife, Diane Figley, said. He served as president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, a worldwide group with 1,100 members.
Diane said being Santa brought her husband "joy. Being able to create memories for families that were individual and personal."
He also married more than 1,300 couples throughout the Northwest, Diane said.
"I now pronounce you wife and wife," Figley declared to Ashley Cavner, 21, and Jessica Lee, 19, both of Vancouver, on Dec. 7, 2012. They are believed to be the first gay couple married in Clark County under Washington's then-new marriage equality law. The ceremony was at Vancouver's First Congregational United Church of Christ.
"Oh, it was his deepest honor," Diane said of Rob's officiating at the Cavner-Lee marriage. "He had no idea he was going to marry that first couple."
She said Rob had a brother who was gay and died in the mid-1980s. She said her husband worked hard "creating equal rights for everyone."
"He always sought to try to find the common agreement that people could have, to work together rather than starting with what separates us," Diane said.
Rob Figley was active in the Edgewood Park Neighborhood Association, where Diane is secretary-treasurer.
He also was running for a Clark County freeholder position — District 3, Position 2.
In a Columbian story last March, Rob Figley said he looked at himself in the mirror on his 40th birthday and realized how much he looked like Santa.
"In essence, the clouds parted over my head and the angels came down and said, 'You are Santa Claus,'" he said in that story.
Our society seems to have an inordinate fondness for pudgy older men with long white beards, he said.
"I didn't make those rules, but it's wonderful for me," he said.
Diane Figley said a memorial service will be held Saturday. Arrangements are being made.