For most of us, thoughts of Santa are a November-December thing. For Bill Connolly, Santa considerations are a yearlong proposition in his role as executive director of the Globe Santa program, which on Christmas Day 2017 concluded its 62nd campaign, using more than $1 million from reader donations to distribute presents consisting of toys and books to some 34,000 children in more than 19,000 deserving families.
The Boston Globe, under the leadership of the Taylor family, took over the popular charity program when the Boston Post, and its Santa charity drive, folded in 1956, and the newspaper has borne the expenses of making Globe Santa a successful Christmastime event ever since.
For 50 of those years, the Southie-born, Dorchester-raised, Boston College-educated Connolly, with deep family roots in Rosmuc, Co. Galway, and Co. Mayo, has played a part in Globe Santa’s long run.
“I started working at the Globe in 1966 as a messenger on the business side,” the Milton resident said in an interview, “and I volunteered to work for the Santa program in 1968 when the packaging was handled in the newspaper’s warehouse at Morrissey Blvd. Over the years I would keep volunteering in various capacities, until 2000, when I took over managing the folks who handled the day-to-day tasks of the program. In 2005, I was named executive director.”
Connolly skipped over a lot in that summary. His Globe resume from 1966 to his retirement in 2005 and assumption of Globe Santa operations stands out for its richness of experience at the newspaper over what most observers, in-house and out, regard as its glory years: ad display makeup, accounting manager, controller, business manager, treasurer, and vice president of administration. He took time off from his Globe responsibilities in 1998 to work directly for the Times Co. as president of its Shared Service Center.
On the day in late January that this interview was concluded, Connolly was well into thinking about the 63rd Globe Santa operation, having just met with members of the board of the Boston Globe Foundation, of which the Santa program is a part, to chew over feedback on last year’s operations and to take a look at what can be improved upon.
“As executive director, over the course of the year, I implement the holiday gift assistance program,” said Connolly, “and that includes, but is not limited to, initiating the toys and books purchases; meeting with key third party organizations, such as the state Department of Transitional Assistance to facilitate and streamline the validation of family need process for both organizations; collaborating on the editorial and promotional campaigns; soliciting fund raising strategies, activities, and partners; and, in the fall months, coordinating fulfillment and delivery of holiday packages directly to family homes.”
Always on the move, especially in November and December when he visits numerous venues to accept donations large and small from givers notable and just folks, on this cold and very damp January morning, the tireless Connolly is already revved up for another campaign. He ends the interview by extolling the guidance and help he receives from the top at the Globe.
“This most treasured tradition depends on thousands of donors who believe in the magic of Christmas,” he said. “It also depends on those behind the scene on the operations side, specifically Linda Pizzuti Henry, the newspaper’s managing director and chairwoman of the Boston Globe Foundation. She oversees Globe Santa. She is incredibly supportive and involved in all decisions. Her input is instrumental in what the family and children receive and the final toy and book selections. In a few words, she is very hands on.
“Everything,” said Connolly, “is geared to Dec. 25. A child’s smile is the ultimate reward, confirming the joy of sharing in the giving – for all of us.”