A Homily to Honor Robert Holmes III
By the Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
In Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
On September 13, 2017
Dear friends, I never knew that Rob was such an evangelist and that he could bring so many people to church. He has absolutely filled this church! All of you are welcome to come back and join us this Sunday! We gather today to remember, to regret and to rejoice.
First, we remember. We remember that Rob was a consummate gentleman, a dapper Episcopalian, who wore bow ties, had a quick wit and admired Ronald Regan. He was a good and thoughtful soul, who arranged Christmas dinners with friends and included those who had lost loved ones. Now, it’s our turn to return the favor.
Every year, our church holds a Christmas party for inner city children, who come to our campus. The GA Band serenades them. We serve a turkey dinner, and they meet Santa, who gives each child a gift. Several years ago, our Santa for hire took ill at the last minute. So, guess who stepped in? None other than Rob, in the new role of Father Christmas on a very hot un-Christmas-like day. As I spoke to many people recently about Rob, I realized that this moment embodied Rob, someone who cared deeply for young people, who became a surrogate father and family member to many and whose life was dedicated to sharing gifts with others.
As a father, he passed on life lessons to his sons and grandchildren. As a businessman, he truly cared for his clients, and they greatly respected him. As a leader, he served his community well. Rob was a Trustee of GA for many years. Former Head of School Jim Connor shared this:
What I remember most about Rob was his concern for students who had the will
and the talent to attend GA but lacked the financial resources to do so. Rob was
part of an organization of like-minded philanthropists called “The Last Dollar.”
I had many a conversation with Rob over the years, even after he had retired from
the Board, about students who had been admitted to GA, had received financial aid,
but had parents for whom the gap between the aid award and the total cost of
attending GA…. made enrollment impossible. More than a few students were able
to attend GA because Rob saw that their parents received those “last dollars.” It
was a beautiful concept and always reminded me that the difference between taking advantage of an opportunity and seeing one pass by can be very small.
Rob and Penny were also two of the best parents ever to be a part of the GA community… Any GA student who needed a home for the night or for a week or a
month or longer, had one at the Holmes’ house. Their three boys—Rob, Bucky,
and Ted—are extraordinary on so many levels. Each was a kind, gracious,
popular student at GA, leaders of the first rank. Each was not only a top tier
athlete; each was also one of the best to grace a field at GA when a game was on
the line… With such qualities and talents, it is not a surprise that they have gone
on to lead successful, productive, essential adult lives.
Jim sends his love and condolences to your entire family. Rob and I belonged to the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Penny is wearing Rob’s PIKA ring on her necklace. When Rob found out that we shared this in common, he greeted me with the secret phrase and handshake. He remembered. Rob remembered lots of little things about each of us, which created a bond.
Rob was a “low maintenance” church member. In fact, Rob required almost no maintenance. After he had surgery to replace a heart valve, I visited him in the hospital. He told me that the Hollywood actor Bradley Cooper had just come by to see him. Bradley practically grew up in the Holmes’ basement watching movies with Buck. Rob was like a second father. So, Bradley, dressed in a leather jacket, rode his motorcycle to the hospital to see Rob. When word leaked that America’s heartthrob was in the heart unit, nurses abandoned their patients and moved like metal filings towards this magnetic leading man. The hospital informed Bradley that if he didn’t leave, patients would die. Rob coolly noted, “After that, the nurses treated me like royalty.”
I enjoyed conversations with Rob at the home of Carl and Karen Buchholz. Rob and Penny sold their home to Carl and Karen and became great and enduring friends. Karen recalls:
I remember when we first met Rob and Penny. We wanted to buy their house
but Carl was working at the White House, and we needed a much longer time to
close than more normal transactions. Not only was Rob sympathetic to our
situation and granted us the time we needed, but he and Penny adopted us as if
we were members of their family. We became very close friends, we loved
spending time together… Rob had an infectious positive attitude. He would
answer the question of how are you with, ‘Never had a better day.’ You could
not help but smile whenever you were in Rob’s presence, and when he laughed
he always had a twinkle in his eye.
We always told Rob and Penny that we were just caretakers of the Willow Dam
and that they were welcome to the house any time… Every time Rob came to
the house he would enter and bellow – Honey I’m home! It just felt right… Carl
and I had the utmost respect for the Holmes family. They were true role models.
How we interface with others constitutes the model we set. Our children see it. Our friends watch. Our colleagues take note. Our spouse will witness it. It is everything. I have served as Rector here for 22 years, and I can count on one or two hands the number of funerals that have filled this church to capacity. I can assure you that only a person who has learned lots of life lessons and put them into practice and has served as a significant role model will fill a church at a time like this with family, friends, colleagues, classmates and neighbors who come to say, “You touched my life. I will miss you. Thank you for enriching my life!”
Rick Ward, one of Rob’s closest friends, notes, “Friendship came before business with Rob. Rob always had lists. He couldn’t live without lists. He had files for everything. Rob was not always politically correct.” That’s part of what we loved about Rob. He was also truly a family guy, and he adored Penn State. When Rob died on August 30th, Rick and Marilyn were the first friends to arrive. Rick was always trying to nudge Rob to become more involved at St. Thomas’. Well, Rick, we just interred Rob on our church grounds, and he will be here for a long time, although we know that he’s watching from heaven even as we speak. Author Annie LaMott notes that when someone suffers a loss, we gather as a community to build a barn to shelter them from the storm. That is what we are doing and will continue to do for months and years to come. We gather to shelter Penny and her family from the storm of losing someone so dear.
We regret. Just a word. We regret that Rob passed so quickly. None of us had a chance to say a final goodbye. It is yet another life lesson. We never know when someone we cherish will be taken from us. Each moment of life is a gift. Every encounter is an event to be savored. While Rob did not live long enough to celebrate your 50th anniversary next April with you, Penny, how many couples get to spend 49 wonderful years with their best friend. You knew each other like a book that had been reread many times. You shared so many interests, so many friends, so many good times. You were a team! You were half-packed and ready to drive to Happy Valley when you discovered that Rob has passed quietly in his sleep with no suffering and no pain.
Finally, we rejoice that Rob did not suffer. If any of us could script our own death, we would want to fall asleep next to the love of our life and awake in heaven with our friends and family around us. We rejoice in our Christian conviction that Rob is more alive now than he has ever been. He bears out Jesus’ stirring declaration: “Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:26) This is not pious poetry, spiritual pap or soft food for feeble Christians. This is the heart of our faith. On the night before he died, Jesus uttered to his friends, “…because I have life, you also will live.” (John 14:19) Here is the pith, the marrow, the strength of our faith. Robert Calder Holmes III is truly alive! We shall see him again and be reunited in eternal life – in a life of peace and joy. I trust that, and I trust, good friends, that all of you do as well. I close with a poem by Elizabeth Clark Hardy called “Sometime at Eve.”
Sometime at eve when the tide is low,
I shall slip my mooring and sail away
With no response to the friendly hail
Of kindred craft in the busy bay.
In the silent hush of the twilight pale
When the night stoops down to embrace the day
And the voices call in the water’s flow….
Sometime at eve when the tide is low
I shall slip my mooring and sail away.
A few who have watched me sail away
Will miss my craft from the busy bay;
Some friendly barks that were anchored near,
Some loving souls that my heart held dear,
In silent sorrow will drop a tear—
But I shall have peacefully furled my sail
In moorings sheltered from storm or gale
And greeted the friends who have sailed before
O’er the Unknown Sea to the Unseen Shore.
Rest in peace, dear friend of ours. Amen.