Wendell P. Holmes, Jr., entrepreneur, community leader and servant and educational trailblazer passed last weekend at his home at the age of 94.
Dr. Holmes was dedicated to service, leadership and excellence. A recipient of numerous local, regional and national awards, he began his transformation of the Jacksonville landscape as the first African American Duval County School Board member as well as, the first African American elected to any Florida county school board serving 23 years.
Wendell P. Holmes, Jr. was born on February 10,1922 in Brunswick, Georgia to an educator, Lula Dent and Wendell Philip Holmes, Sr., a mortician. His parent’s values were instilled early as he went to not only value but invest in education, but be a successful proprietor of a mortuary business as well.
A 1943 graduate of Hampton Institute, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in business. He later attended Eckels College in Philadelphia and earned a degree in mortuary science. In 1945, married to Jacksonville native Vivian Broome and expecting his first child, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army during World War II. Following his return from the war, he was employed by the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier and a postal clerk when he met Alphonso West. The two eventually went into partnership together, creating the Holmes & West Funeral Home on Edgewood Avenue in 1956. For years, Holmes & West Funeral Home was a successful business, serving Jacksonville families during periods of loss. In 1984, Wendell established Wendell Holmes Funeral Directors where he guided and trained many funeral directors who are presently operating successful funeral businesses today, following his values, principles and business acumen. He continuously served the Jacksonville community until he retired in 2009.
A strong advocate for quality education for all, especially African American students, Wendell chaired the Jacksonville Citizens Committee for Better Education during the1960’s. Observing the segregated, sub-par, second-class education his two children (and other black children) were receiving in the Duval County Public Schools, he made frequent appearances at school board meetings, petitioning for change. By 1969, his voice for change had been heard and appreciated. He became the first African American Duval County School Board member as well as, the first African American elected to any Florida county school board. He was a catalyst who helped transform the system, creating magnet programs, campaigning for quality education across the county and helping raise standards.
A history maker in higher education, Dr. Wendell P. Holmes Jr. was the first person to serve as Chairperson of the boards of two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU’s) concurrently. He served on the Board of Trustees for Bethune-Cookman College for 27 years (11 as Chairman). Dr. Holmes also served on the Board of Trustees of Hampton University for 37 years (9 as Chairman). To his credit, buildings on both campuses are named in his honor. He also served as chairperson of the Council of Board Chairs of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges serving 32,000 members and 1,700 colleges and universities.
Wendell’s commitment to service and uplifting those who were less fortunate in the community, connected him to fraternities, social clubs and religious organizations. He was a life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and founding Sire Archon of Gamma Beta Boule’ of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity Inc., Fla Jax, the Moles and the Royal Vagabounds of Jacksonville and Ebenezer United Methodist Church.
Wendell Holmes Jr. was a role model in the community, known for being on the social scene supporting others and always impeccably dressed for all occasions with his beautiful wife Jacquelyne by his side. Married in 1999, together Dr. and Mrs. Holmes embarked on their own journey filled with love, travel and mutual interest ranging from HBCU football events to local social events.
For years he was a dedicated and active member of where he served as Lay Leader and a member of the choir. Wendell’s deep and abiding faith in God made him recognize that he was truly blessed. Consequently, he was unconditionally generous and gave of his time, wisdom and support to churches, numerous civic organizations and charities. He was a Jacksonville community servant and trailblazer serving on additional boards not previously mentioned – Jacksonville Urban League, NAACP, Ritz Theatre and LaVilla Museum.
He leaves to cherish precious memories, his devoted and loving wife Jacquelyne, son Wendell III (Patricia), daughter Carolyn Nesmith, four grandchildren, Kristen, Robert “Bobby” (Cortney), Wendell IV, Heather, four great grandchildren, Brianna, Jasmine, Robert, Kaylyn, nieces, nephews and relatives, Alpha Phi Alpha and Sigma Pi Phi brothers, Hampton, Bethune-Cookman and Jacksonville community.
If there ever was an image of a strong, dedicated, intellectual, honorable, purposeful, kind, respectful, patient, reverent, impeccably dressed black man, it is the image and person of Dr. Wendell P. Holmes Jr.
All services will be held at Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, 215 Bethel Baptist Street. The viewing will be held Friday June 3, from 5 – 7 p.m. and Home going services are set for Saturday June 4th at 10 a.m. J.E. Fralin & Sons, Mortuary.