The City of Jacksonville lost one of its true champions with the passing of Rogers Baldwin (“Tiger”) Holmes, 97, on Wednesday, November 28, 2018. Tiger, nicknamed so because of his feistiness as a football team manager while at Robert E. Lee High School, was born in Jacksonville November 13, 1921, the son of Jacksonville natives, John London Holmes and Winifred Rogers Holmes and the brother of John London Holmes, Jr. (deceased).
In 1947, he married Lockwood (Lockie) Morris (deceased), daughter of Dr. Kenneth A. Morris and Mildred Pool Morris. Together they raised five children, Leighton Holmes Tesche, Rogers B. Holmes, Jr. (deceased) (Melissa), Kenneth A. Holmes, Lockwood P. Holmes (Tricia) and Mary Holmes Roebuck (Bill) (deceased). He was a loving grandfather to eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. By his side throughout his life was his godfather, father-in-law, doctor and mentor, Dr. Kenneth A. Morris, who he adored.
In later life, he married Jacqueline Bennett (deceased), daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Harry G. Bennett. He is survived by two step-daughters, Elizabeth Drake (Tom) and Connell Pinkney (Dank) and three step-grandchildren.
Tiger graduated from Robert. E. Lee High School in 1939 and was co-manager of the State Champion football team. He entered the University of Florida that year with the help and guidance of Richard P. Daniel. He joined the Kappa Alpha Fraternity, waited on tables at the Student Union for two years, was elected to the Honor Court twice, was Captain of the Swim Team, SEC Champion, 50yd freestyle, named to the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame, the University of Florida Hall of Fame, Florida Blue Key and was president of his graduating class in 1948. Later in his life, he was elected President of Gator Boosters and the Letterman’s Club.
He left the University temporarily in 1942 to join the Army Air Corp (later to become the US Air Force). He was an A-26 pilot in the Pacific Theatre during WWll, served one year in the occupation of Japan and was called back during the Korean War to serve two more years. After the War he served in the Florida Air National Guard until 1965, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
He started Holmes Lumber Company in 1954 by parking cars at night, supplemented by Air Guard pay and a small loan from his father-in-law and one used truck. Tiger was the driver, the salesman and the accountant. Years later, his lumber company became one of the most successful lumber companies in the Southeast with 450 employees in five locations.
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, about the time of the Consolidation of the City when most of the city was Democrat, Tiger began to get involved in politics. In 1972 – 1975, he was elected Chairman of the Duval County Republican Executive Committee. He worked hard at fund-raising, recruiting candidates and helping them in their campaigns. He met and hosted many presidents over the years. His involvement in the Republican Party extended over his entire lifetime and he was successful in contributing to the turning of Duval County and Florida into a two-party system.
Throughout his lifetime, there were many interests. Next to swimming, there was golf and as the son of champion golfers, he loved playing at his favorite course at Timuquana Country Club. Hunting and fishing trips with his sons, grandsons and great friends to Central America and Africa were pure enjoyment in his life. At most of the swim meets he was accompanied by his daughter, Mary, an All-American swimmer. And Tiger loved to dance, especially to his favorite song, “Rock Around the Clock”, with his daughter, Leighton. He was still dancing until the week he passed away. And then in the 90’s he decided to be a vintner and grow and develop 40 acres of persimmons and his favorite grape, the muscadine, on his property in Fleming Island. This created 1200 bottles of wine a year, many jars of jelly, muscadines at Winn Dixie and the first ever Clay County Grape Festival. As evident, there was never a dull moment in Tiger’s life.
In 1982, Holmes returned to swimming in a big way as therapy after open heart surgery. In 1988 he organized The Holmes Lumber Jax Swim Team and with 170 members of the team they represented Jacksonville in the World Masters Swim Meet, winning in Brisbane, Australia. In the summers of 1990 – 1992, Holmes’ swim volunteers taught over 12,000 Jacksonville children in the “Every Child a Swimmer” Program. In 1984 – 1988, Tiger sponsored the Holmes Lumber Gators, the UF Club team. Some of his many accolades to the swimming world include: The International Swimming Hall of Fame, Chairman of the Board (1996-1998), the Charles McCaffree Award, American College Coaches Association (1989), the Jacksonville Area Sports Lifetime Achievement Award (1996), Jacksonville Sports Hall of Fame inductee, World Masters Champion, 50 butterfly (1990, 1992, 1994), and USMS national champion (14 titles). But perhaps his most prized achievement was the International Swimming Hall of Fame Gold Medallion Award, presented one per year to a former swimmer who has gone on to great accomplishments in the field of business, entertainment or politics.
In 2015, still going strong, Tiger, at the age of 93, made swimming history when he teamed up with three other Masters swimmers, John Corse, Bill Adams and Ed Graves, whose average age of 90.5 years set a Masters World Record in the 800 meter relay at the Rowdy Gaines Masters Classic. A larger-than-life man in many ways, he always encouraged others to excel in all that they do by cheering them on and nurturing their dreams. All his life, whether it has been with family, swimming, business, politics or military service, he has been an inspiration to people young and old. “Whatever you do, do it well. Go hard. Go at it 100%.” Rogers B. (Tiger) Holmes.
The family is grateful for the many loving caregivers who have been at his side for the past year: Cindy Duncan, Connie Burke, Cynthia Fluker, Lorran White, Julie Mason and Linda Ott.
In lieu of flowers, the family the family requests that donations be made to Mission of Hope, Haiti Inc., PO Box 171500, Austin, TX 78717, 512-256-0835, www.mohhaiti.org.
A Graveside Service with Military Honors will be held 2:30 PM Wednesday December 5th, 2018 in Evergreen Cemetery 4535 Main Street, Jacksonville, Florida 32206. A reception will be held following the service at 4 PM in Timuquana Country Club 4028 Timuquana Road Jacksonville, Florida 32210.