The Way We Were: Holt and Betty Ann Graves

The Way We Were: Holt and Betty Ann Graves
Lawton, Sarah, Betty Ann, Holt, Corbin and Lyerly Graves

Like the lace on Betty Ann Gordon’s dress the day she married Holt Graves at St. John’s Cathedral in 1980 the couple’s lives are intertwined and patterned in a beautiful and fitting filagree of family history. Betty Ann’s wedding dress had been worn by Holt’s mother, Tayloe Graves and several of his aunts; it was embellished with intricate lace which had belonged to Holt’s grandmother. That delicate yet enduring connection continued when six years ago, the dress was disassembled, and Betty Ann made throw pillows for the granddaughters of all the women who had worn the dress and she made little ring bearer pillows as well.

Holt and Betty Ann’s marriage is the culmination of an amusing journey of near misses for two people born in Jacksonville in 1955 only three months apart- she in Old St. Luke’s Hospital – he at St. Vincent’s. Betty and Richard Gordon carried their baby home to Lakewood. Ed and Tayloe Graves carried baby Holt to Ortega Forrest. The infants grew up within fifteen miles of each other. (Only three miles across the river from Florida Yacht Club to Epping Forrest.) Holt’s mother went to high school with Betty Ann’s father. Both sets of grandparents lived in Jacksonville; Betty Ann and Holt were confirmed at St. John’s Cathedral on the same day when they were twelve but did not know each other; both worked on degrees in Accounting and Business Administration during the same time period at Emory and Georgia Tech universities in Atlanta only a few miles apart. Yet their paths never crossed. 

Betty Ann Gordon 1959
Betty Ann Gordon 1959

Each one recalls a childhood of freedom — a busy household for Betty Ann with four siblings riding bicycles all over Lakewood, spending time at the Lakewood Pharmacy, Dipper Dan’s Ice Cream shop, the Toy Parade and French Novelty.  Holt recalls, “Leaving after school and coming home at supper time.”  With his pals, he rode his unicycle across Roosevelt Boulevard to go to Carter’s Pharmacy and all around the Ortega neighborhood. There were dance classes for Betty Ann at Mervyn’s Ballet Guild of Jacksonville on San Jose, (while in college she trained at Atlanta Ballet.) And, there were piano lessons, swim team, camp in North Carolina in the summers. Holt played sports in high school – Episcopal and Robert E. Lee – went boating with his mother and dad and two younger brothers. “We had the 2nd Hobie Cat in Jacksonville.” Idyllic childhoods on opposite sides of the river yet mirror image experiences in many ways.  Finally, twenty years after being so close yet so far away, these two lively people connected geographically and romantically.

But, it was not in Jacksonville. It was not in Atlanta. It was not when they joined a college tour group and sat about twenty feet apart on a plane bound for Europe. It was 4,000 miles from home at Heathrow Airport in London that their parallel lives finally intersected.

Holt Graves 1959
Holt Graves 1959

Holt laughed as he recalled that of the forty-two people in the travel group only seven were guys. “A stat I’ll never forget.” As fate would have it, after the 8-week tour, Betty Ann went back to Atlanta to work for the Coca Cola Company. However, Holt explained laughingly, “When she came home for Christmas in 1978, she called me. Make sure you mention that SHE CALLED ME!” Betty Ann remarked that as a result of that conversation Holt asked her to a birthday party for a friend who was turning thirty. “We thought he was really old! We dated the rest of that week then dated long distance for a while until I moved back to Jacksonville.”  Holt added, “I was a hero in her mother’s eyes because I got her to come back home.”

At their wedding, of the 400 people in attendance there was only one overlap of guests that both families knew! Holt and Betty Ann are the parents of Lawton, an attorney in Jacksonville who is married to Sarah and the father of three girls – Weslyn, Sidney and Chambers. He was the 5th generation of their family to be married at St. John’s Cathedral. And Corbin, a CPA who lives in Raleigh with his wife Byerly and their children Chesson, Walker and Anna. Sticking to tradition, Corbin and Lawton and the grand children’s names are all family names or derivatives of family names.

Holt and Betty Ann with grandchildren
Holt and Betty Ann with grandchildren

When asked about what is most important in life Holt said, “It’s all about family.” His wife agreed saying, “Even when I was going to school at Emory and working in Atlanta, I knew I’d come back to Jacksonville. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be since my family and friends are all here.” Holt expounded on that comment. “Five generations of my family have lived here. I grew up here and I wasn’t going to follow a job somewhere else.” Holt and Betty Ann are CPAs although she retired in April after 39 years with American Heritage Life Insurance now Allstate Benefits. Among other activities, she remains busy with a group which meets to sew dresses for DESC and during the past months has made a quilt for each of her six grandchildren. Betty Ann learned to sew even before her grandmother gave her a machine for her 16th birthday. That skill came in handy since she made many of her bridesmaids’ dresses. She is an accomplished seamstress who also makes baby quilts and other items including matching outfits for the family for a 2019 Disney Cruise. She enjoys helping with the grand- children, has been a Sunday School teacher and until a recent knee injury, an active tennis player. According to Holt she is the keeper of their extensive social calendar. They belong to the casually formed Lakeside Drive Dock group, two supper clubs with friends of over 38 years, and she organizes get-togethers and reunions for former work friends, college pals and even camp friends from years ago. It is evident that keeping in touch and maintaining connections is important to these laid back, friendly, congenial folks who value family and relationships. Holt continues his work with Reynolds, Smith, and Hill, plays tennis, and remarked that he and Betty Ann have a “pretty good division of labor.” He does not cook but Betty Ann says he “is a good cleaner.” They both do yard work- she mows – he trims the hedges. They enjoy boating and their sailboat “The GRAVY Boat” bobs in the Ortega River at the dock of their Lakeside Drive Home. They enjoy cruising up and down the intercoastal, going on “cocktail cruises” and to Jekyll Island or just across the St. Johns River to watch the moon rise.

On their walls are family photos, commendations and a framed memory box with the Yacht Club Flag tied into knots as a result of hurricane winds which was presented to Holt when he finished his service as Commodore in 2004. Holt has been active with Riverside Rotary Club for thirty plus years where he was past president.

The family is anticipating being with their children and grandchildren at what was Holt’s maternal grandparents’ home in Cashiers, North Carolina. They have completed a guest house there to accommodate their family visitors. Betty Ann confessed that they are a competitive bunch even when it comes to dominoes, so these should be lively gatherings. Holt and his extended family of many cousins still have land in South Carolina which was a land grant. The   house which had been on their land was burned during Sherman’s march through the South in the Civil War and although “it is just pine trees now” the family voted to keep the property as a connection to their ancestors and as a meeting place or “field trip” destination for the cousins.

The Graves family has many memories and legacies from family members on both sides and back many generations. They have branched out from their roots on the St. Johns River and have traveled to Alaska, the Baltic Sea, Australia, gone on Disney Cruises- and the one that started it all- that fateful trip where two young Jacksonville natives who had lived only a few miles apart their entire lives traveled all the way to London in 1976 to meet and eventually start a life together.

Holt and Betty Ann Graves 2021
Holt and Betty Ann Graves 2021

When asked what meaningful relationship or event most influenced his life, Holt smiled, leaned over, touched Betty Ann, and said, “When Betty Ann called and asked me out – and that trip to Europe.” Betty Ann smiled,” I can’t top that. Without all that coming together we wouldn’t be here now.” The couple said they never argue, although Holt jokingly admitted to getting mad at his wife once around 1980.

The Graves have a shared history separated only by geography and that river which runs through it. Their mutual philosophy – family first, maintain connections, value relationships, honor and cherish the previous generations, find joy and humor in everyday things- certainly good advice coming from folks with a joyful, casual attitude and forty plus year marriage (with only one disagreement which Betty Ann doesn’t even remember!) 

Two individuals, two families, many generations leading similar lives and holding the same strong values have been delicately yet tightly laced together as Betty Ann and Holt’s parallel lives merged into one journey right back where they started.

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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