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The Daily Tar Heel

‘Heelraiser’ remembered as loyal fan and friend

Bryce McCulloch remembers John Snipes as a loyal Tar Heel, a great friend and as the man who saved his family.

“At one point, my dad wasn’t doing so well,” he said. “John just gave him little jobs and paid him more money than they were worth.”

“(He) helped him through probably one of the toughest times of his life,” McCulloch, a 17-year-old student at East Chapel Hill High School, said.

Snipes died at the age of 52 on June 5. His multiple sclerosis was well known by friends, though he never complained of the disease’s effects.

“It was such a surprise,” said Margaret Cannell, executive director of the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce.

“Everyone knew his health had been bad, but no one knew his health had been that bad,” Cannell said.

Along with his boisterous and generous personality, Snipes was best known for two things — playing the Santa Claus in the Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas parade in Hillsborough and driving his Tar Heel blue, 1974 Cadillac Fleetwood Hearse, known as the “Heelraiser.”

“There was a ton of room in the back … and there was just a ton of UNC stuff thrown everywhere.” McCulloch said. “It was just his way to give back to the UNC community.”

As Santa, Snipes would greet children in the parade line, Cannell said. She said other groups in town would ask him to come by their stores as Santa after the parade.

“He never turned down an opportunity,” Cannell said.

Snipe’s memorial was held Sunday.

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