Reflections on the passing of Mr. Kenneth R. Holmes, Sr.

By Terry Harris

Kenneth Ray Holmes, Sr. passed away peacefully at his home on Tuesday, March 23, 2021, just five days after words of praise for his years of serving on the Surry County Board of Supervisors were pronounced by every other member of the board when the announcement was made of his resignation from that body for health reasons.

Throughout the area and beyond, many knew him as a public servant devoted to his community, and with good reason. Following his graduation from L.P. Jackson High School in 1967 and his subsequent earning of both a BS and Master’s degree he devoted nearly 35 years to educating children, many of those years back home in Surry county.

In addition to his time serving on the Surry County Board of Supervisors, Mr. Holmes was known, among other things, for having served as Director of Alumni Affairs at Virginia State University, being a founding member of the Nu Delta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and serving as a member of the Improvement Association/Community Action as well as President of the Surry County African Heritage Society and President of the Surry-Sussex-Prince George Alumni Chapter of Virginia State University. 

What might not be as well known is how unique and creative and personable he was, as fellow board member of many years Judy Lyttle explained last week.

“It’s a loss to the county,” she began. “He was very intelligent. He knew his job and he performed it on the board – looked out for everyone.  He enjoyed life and was so full of life and joy that he made people feel special.  And he also was an innovator – and a comedian!  He would break out in a song during board meetings! And he was rare in his ability to come up with something really comical to break up any tension about something we were dealing with in the board – to make things seen lighter. He was special, he really was.  He was genuine.”

On Sunday his daughter, Keinya, shared some other things that many may not know about Mr. Holmes. She related that her dad used his unique way of looking at the world to create a statewide campaign - Flunkbusters – in 1985 to motivate students to excel academically.  Many may not know that in 2007 he introduced the world to Busta Bookworm, a five-foot-tall rolling robot that he designed, built, and used to get elementary school kids excited about reading. Or that he surrounded himself with “countless books, antiques, historical documents, artwork and music.”

“He was a real family man who loved living in the country – being outdoors,” said Keinya. “And he’s always been very creative – even in high school he did illustrations for his yearbook.  You could say he was kind of an inventor; we have airplanes at the house that he created.  And he called himself ‘Dr. Decker’ because he was really good at building decks.  He loved doing that.  He even designed and built our house. I remember he built us a really nice doll house – almost like a replica of our home.”

“He was always so supportive – eager to help,” she continued.  “It was very important to him to create an environment for us that was conducive to achieving academic excellence while allowing us to be creative.  Being creative was a passion of his.  We grew up surrounded by books and art because it was very important to him for us to have that.  And whenever we had science or any type of project at school, we would always have the best one, because as an artist, he would get as excited about it as we would.”

“He was funny, and he was constantly singing around the house!” she added.  “I’m not stuck in one genre because I grew up hearing all sorts of music – R&B, gospel, even folk – John Denver songs like ‘Sunshine on my Shoulders.’  My friends would ask ‘WHY do you know THAT song?’”

“He was definitely not boring,’ she continued.  “I guess you could say he was a Renaissance man.  There were a lot of things I guess we didn’t appreciate as a child.  It was just what we were accustomed to.  It was only after becoming an adult that I began to realize that everybody probably didn’t have access to some of the things we had access to.”

Finally, Keinya mentioned one last thing for which she is particularly thankful.

“He did get to see my son,” she said of six-week-old A. J. “He was so excited and happy - thrilled to see his first grandchild!”

She paused for a moment, then quietly added, “I loved him. He will definitely be missed.”