Samuel T.



Camden Courier-Post * October 22, 2006

Devotion to city lives on

Courier-Post Staff

Camden's Samuel T. "Tommy" Holmes was dedicated to the rebirth of the city where he was born. But he also was very much "a Virginia gentleman," in the words of his widow, Lydia Holmes.

A combination of street savvy and country charm (his mother hails from the Tidewater region) helped make Holmes, who died September 27, a respected figure in Camden for decades. Well-dressed and well-liked, he also was a beloved son, husband, father, grandfather and friend.

One of the first black staffers in the Courier-Post newsroom (he left the paper in 1972), Holmes had a long resume of public service, ranging from the Camden County Council on Economic Opportunity Inc., to the Camden Redevelopment Agency. His commitment -- low-key yet passionate -- was the product of "the good values" instilled in him as a child, his widow says.

"He was very intelligent and articulate -- very friendly and warm," adds Lydia Holmes, who met her husband in the late 1970s when both were working for the city.

They have two grown sons, Khalil and Kevin; Holmes also had an older son, Samuel T. Holmes III.

Colleagues held him in high regard

"Tommy Holmes was a person who built bridges," Arijit De, executive director of the Camden Redevelopment Agency, says. "At a time of controversy in the city and an "us against them' mentality . . . his amiable nature and his desire to make progress allowed him to find common ground among competing interests and effect real, tangible change."

De notes that prior to his death, Holmes was working on the redevelopment of the Harrison Avenue landfill site. Perhaps the best-known project he was involved with at the Camden economic opportunity office was the construction of Arthur's Court, a development of affordable single-family homes in the city's Cramer Hill section.

Yet he was neither a horn-blower nor a headline-seeker.

"There were times I got frustrated that his efforts, I felt at times, were not appreciated or recognized," Lydia Holmes says. "But he would always tell me, "Lyd, remember, this is not about individuals, this is about doing something for the people.' "

Holmes was not all work and no play. He was a reader, a music lover and a shutterbug.

"Golf was one of his passions, too," Lydia Holmes says.

Among his golfing buddies was Betsy Clifford, executive director of the Camden Lutheran Housing Corp.

"We played at Fairway (the historically black course in Gloucester Township) and had a great time. We just loved it," says Clifford, who met Holmes through her housing development work. "Tommy was the kind of guy who had the amazing quality of inviting everyone to be part of his family."

Lydia Holmes says she and her husband also loved to travel; the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest were the setting for a particularly memorable vacation.

"It was a very spiritual and harmonious place . . . He said, "If I go first, I want you to scatter my ashes here.' "

Which, Lydia Holmes adds, "I am going to do."