The Way We Were: Rogers Baldwin “Tiger” Holmes

The Way We Were: Rogers Baldwin “Tiger” Holmes
Tiger Holmes

 

When your list of accomplishments include World War II fighter pilot, big game hunter, helicopter pilot, successful entrepreneur, world champion athlete, friend to United States presidents, husband, father of five, grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of seven plus two more on the way, there doesn’t seem to be much else left to do.

Except write a book, so Rogers “Tiger” Holmes did just that. “A Tiger Tale: The Life and Times of Rogers B. Holmes,” is Holmes’ legacy for his progeny.

World War II pilot

“I wanted to leave something for the kids,” he said. “My mother knew all about ancestry but she didn’t write it down, so I wrote it for the

children.”

Ted Boutwell, Class of 1936 Robert E. Lee High School football team captain, dubbed Holmes “Tiger” after he had gotten into a fight and fought like a tiger.

The nickname stuck all these years and for good reason. Holmes has grabbed life and given it a good shake. At age 95 he is still fierce, witty, magnetic and vibrant.

At a time of life when most people would be content to sit in a rocking chair this Tiger is still growling. Just ask him about his views on education, technology or social unrest. He is a passionate believer in the goodness of mankind, but remarked, “We don’t teach history anymore. The lessons from World War II should be ingrained in every child so we can learn from that. War is a terrible thing.”

Holmes was flying P51s and A26 Attack Bombers when he was around 22 years old. He observed firsthand the unbelievable destruction.

“I learned a lot. During the war, the Japanese, along with the Germans, were the cruelest, meanest people imaginable, yet I lived a year in occupied Japan and there couldn’t be a nicer race of people,” he said. “I believe every child of every race is born equal. One thing I’ve failed to do in life is be a better advocate of peace and good will.”

Holmes children: Leighton, Kenny, Mary, Lockwood and Rogers, Jr.

Holmes and Lockwood (Lockie) Morris were married at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jacksonville during his senior year at University of Florida. “Our families were best friends. Her father, Dr. Kenneth Morris, was my godfather, and my dad was Lockie’s godfather. Dr. Morris was a wonderful person. He was chief of surgery at several local hospitals and a great friend.”

The couple had five children: Leighton Holmes Tesche, Rogers Holmes, Jr., Kenneth Holmes, Lockwood Holmes and Mary Holmes Roebuck.

“All of my kids are great people. All of them went to Lee except Mary – she went to Bolles to be on the swim team,” said Holmes.

Jaque and Tiger Holmes

Unfortunately, the couple divorced after 20 years – a difficult experience for both. Years later, through their mutual social circle, Holmes connected with Jacqueline Mulliken. “She was an art consultant, a brilliant woman and an interesting person,” he said. “We had a small wedding and moved out to Doctor’s Lake.”

Holmes added two stepchildren to his family – Connell Pinckney and Elizabeth Drake, as well as Jacque’s three grandchildren. Sadly, Jacque passed on in January 2017; they were married 42 years.

A fierce competitor in business, Holmes founded Holmes Lumber Company and later ran a highly successful Muscadine Grape Farm.

“After the war I went to work for Demuth Lumber Company but then I got involved in retail sales. I started with a second hand truck and me as the driver,” he said, holding up his thumb and finger to form a zero, indicating what he had to start with. “I had a shed on Tallyrand Avenue – did all the delivery, unloading, everything myself. When the kids came along they were all involved in the business at some point. They just fit right in.

Tiger Holmes holds newborn Lockwood as daughter Leighton and sons Rogers and Kenny look on.

“When my son Lockwood and I sold Holmes Lumber Company to Builder’s Choice in 2008 we had over 400 employees. Around the turn of the 21st century I decided I wanted to be a farmer, so I bought 40 acres in Clay County and went into the grape business. I ended up with the largest muscadine grape farm in Florida. The last year of operation, in the early 2000s, I sold 92,000 pounds of grapes to Publix and Winn Dixie, then sold the land to Eagle Harbor,” Holmes said.

Holmes’ family is distinguished. Baldwin, Florida is named for his grandfather, Dr. Abel S. Baldwin, a doctor in Jacksonville during the Civil War; the only doctor at the time, according to Holmes. Baldwin’s wife and son, who was also a doctor, died in the Yellow Fever Epidemic. Known as the father of the port of Jacksonville, Baldwin was also president of the Florida Atlantic and Gulf Central Railroad and founder of the Florida Medical Association and the Duval County Medical Association.

When complimented on his grandfather’s successes, Holmes, quick to smile and joke, said “Well, I didn’t have anything to do with it.”

Tiger Holmes (first row, right, in sweater) with the Robert E. Lee football team

Although his ancestry is respected and his childhood privileged – his parents held county club memberships, had cars, servants and entertained at their home on Mallory Street in Riverside – life changed abruptly during the Depression. His father’s investments and inheritance were lost. The family moved to Murray Hill which at that time was in the country.

“My father was the greatest guy who ever lived. He took a job as a salesman and worked so hard. We weren’t very well off when I was in my teens so I worked my way through University of Florida, where I was elected to the Honor Court, was in Florida Blue Key and president of the Class of 1948,” said Holmes. “I started in 1939 but the war broke out and I went back after that on the GI Bill. Majored in Business Administration. Joined KA (Kappa Alpha fraternity) and was captain of the swim team.”

Bill Adams, Ed Graves, Tiger Holmes and John Corse

Holmes is rightfully proud of his athletic heritage. His mother, Winnie Rogers Holmes, was State Amateur Women’s Golf Champion and president of the Florida Amateur Golf Association. His father, John London Holmes, was a Timuquana Club Golf Champion.
“Believe it or not competition is one of the best ways to promote friendship. It is a stepping stone to finding a common ground,” said Holmes, a great supporter of competitive sports. “You get to know the other person; learn that your competitor is a good person.”
Holmes has had many opportunities to test his theory – on the golf course and through his competitive swimming.

In his early years, Holmes was Southeastern 50-yard freestyle champion; he swam in the All Service Olympics in 1946; he has graced the cover of Swim Magazine; was a collegiate athlete at University of Florida, has won 14 national and four world backstroke championships since starting in his 60s to compete in the Masters competitions in that age group. He was World Master Butterfly Champion in 1990, ’92 and ’94 and is in the UF Hall of Fame. Holmes, John Corse, Ed Graves and Bill Adams set the world record in 2015 for the 800 freestyle and the 400 freestyle relays in the Master’s Competition.

Holmes has swum competitively in events around the world, from Jacksonville to Brisbane, Australia. He founded the Holmes Lumber Jax Masters Team and sponsored Holmes Lumber Gators, which went on to win state, national and international events.

Tiger Holmes, Bill Adams, John Corse (wearing Holmes’ jacket) and Ed Graves

Many of the Holmes athletes competed in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Olympic winner Mary Wayte led the way to establishing the Tiger Holmes Swimming Endowment at UF.
Despite all the awards and accolades, he insists that his daughter, Mary Holmes Roebuck, is the best athlete in the family. The Holmes Wall of Fame holds plaques and awards and photographs of Tiger with Presidents Reagan, Bush, Nixon and right in the midst of it all are photographs of Mary from childhood to her competition in the Iron Man Competition in Hawaii.

“She was less than three pounds when she was born,” said Holmes about her extraordinary achievements. “We didn’t hold on to any hopes for her but she was a star swimmer. Just won everything.”

From 1990 through 1992, Holmes Lumber Company sponsored instructors from their team to teach local disadvantaged children to swim. “The city bused the kids in and let us use public pools. We worked our butts off. There was insurance to deal with. We had to get 54 of our swimmers certified as swimming instructors. Many of the children didn’t even have bathing suits. We managed to teach 12,000 kids to swim! That was just in the summer. You can’t put a little kid on the side of a pool in December,” said Holmes.

“Telfair Mahaffey, who worked at Holmes Lumber, deserves a lot of credit for this. He and Brenda Hennessy,” said Holmes. “You can’t ever be anything or do anything without friends and family.”

As chairman of the Republican Party for Duval County in the 1970s Holmes hobnobbed with U.S presidents and joked that when he met President Richard Nixon he told him, “You should have burned the damned tapes.”

Holmes interjects comments into conversation about canoeing down the Zambezi River, hunting in Honduras, Argentina and Africa, golfing with Sam Snead, fishing in Mexico with pal Bryant Skinner or in Alaska with buddy Hugh Culverhouse, joking with a president, and shooting ducks from a helicopter (you read that correctly) like the average person would mention going to the grocery store.

Despite his many accomplishments and exciting adventures, Tiger is quick to remark how fortunate he is, and describes being “loaded up with clothes and goodies” for the needy children of Honduras when on hunting trips.

“We have the wherewithal in this world to feed every hungry person and the U.S. does so much for the rest of the world. Christianity teaches respect for one another – brotherly love and tolerance,” said Holmes. “I cannot tolerate people who want to create unrest. I am a religious person but it is a private thing. I believe in a little meditation and doing something good in the world.”

Tiger Holmes’ ‘pawprints’ leave an inspiring legacy of hard work, goodwill and patriotism for his children and grandchildren to follow. An appropriate dedication on one of his many award plaques reads: “Rogers “Tiger” Holmes: No job too great, no job too small that you don’t go beyond the call.”


By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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