Quentin Holmes — 1931-2016

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I’m Quentin’s son, Gary, and on behalf of my mother and sister Thalia, I’d like to thank everyone for attending today. The support we’ve received from my Father’s friends and community has been a blessing. I hesitate to mention anyone by name because the list would be endless, but I would particularly like to thank the Checklicks, who got my father to the hospital when he was stricken with his blot clot. We’re especially grateful to this church, which has more than fulfilled its mission of Christian fellowship and compassion this past week. In times like these I feel sorry for people who don’t belong to churches.

As I’ve thought about my father’s time on earth there is one theme that keeps recurring. He wouldn’t have put it exactly like this, but my father would have agreed that of the three things that abideth – faith, hope and love – the greatest of these is love. We Holmeses come from the Yankee branch of the WASP tree so that is a word that is never spoken aloud. But I see now that his whole life was motivated by love – love for his friends, love for his community, love for his church, love for his country, and love for his family.

I doubt that there’s anyone in this room who wasn’t touched at one time or another by his personal kindness or acts of generosity. He was the kind of person who literally could not do enough for you. If you needed a ride he’d take you to your appointment and then insist on driving you the next day whether you needed it or not.   Or if you admired one of his lightship baskets, he’d weave one to your own specifications and then ask if he could make another for your spouse. He was remarkably outgoing and yet somehow also reserved. For an extrovert he didn’t really like the spotlight and always wanted to listen more than he talked.

A lifetime of helpfulness and generosity is not what you would have predicted for the youthful Quentin Holmes. Before he was a man’s man he was a boy’s boy, combining Tom Sawyer’s mischievousness with Huck Finn’s wildness. He was the kind of kid who, when he was kicked out of class for misbehaving, would proceed to set the school’s rain gutters on fire to see what would happen. He was never malicious but this kind of behavior did not endear him to his stern, rules-bound parents. Today he would have been diagnosed with ADD, but 80 years ago he was a bit of a black sheep.

He was always a wise guy. He’d later joke that he picked up my mother in a bowling alley. Like all good jokes, this has a grain of truth. When he was in the seventh grade, his parents bought land on Nantucket for raising gladiolas, and in the summer the family would be on the island working the fields. My father wandered into the local bowling alley one night and there was my mother and her friend making pocket money setting up pins. Remember this was seventh grade, so he only came up to my mother’s shoulder but that didn’t stop him from flirting. He wouldn’t tell them his name so they called him Butch all summer. When the summer was over, he returned to Brockton and my parents became pen pals, reconnecting in person every summer when the Holmes family returned. But it was after the Holmeses moved to the island full-time that the romance really bloomed.

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My parents were classic high school sweethearts and graduated together – two out of 22 graduates in Nantucket High School class of 1950. My father went off for a year of agricultural school at UMass and my mother went to business school in Boston and they married in the fall of 1951.   He was barely 20 and she was 19.   They were so young but they became professionals at being married and we celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary back on Nantucket last October. It really was a love match, even after all these years, because each of my parents dedicated their lives to making the other one happy.

My father’s dream had been to open a dairy on Nantucket and he did so, selling eggs and milk locally. After a few years he realized he couldn’t compete with larger off-island dairies, so he closed the operation, loaded the cows onto the ferry and moved the family, first to East Bridgewater and eventually to Brockton.

Five years later he’s 30 years old, working in the warehouse of Star Market, with a wife who’s a bookkeeper in a shoe factory, two kids in elementary school, a mortgage and probably some debt related to the dairy. It’s at this point that his life becomes a classic American success story. My Aunt Jean and my Uncle Jimmy have just bought a swimming pool and my Uncle Jimmy remarks that he has no one to service the pool and that maybe this is an area my father should explore. So he takes $100, buys a drum of chlorine and some pool cleaning tools and starts a side business.   Eventually he quits his job at the warehouse to do this fulltime. The service business leads to a store where they sell equipment and supplies and that eventually leads to Swim Incorporated, which sells and installs pools.

And here’s where I’d like to do a commercial for the American small businessman. Southeastern Massachusetts is dotted with pools that my father installed – pools where kids learned to swim, the site of thousands of pool parties, graduation parties, squealing kids and a lot of fun. My father also put more people through college than most billionaire philanthropists. Swim Inc. hired 10-15 college guys each summer to install those pools – and those were good decent-paying jobs too that helped cover tuition. My father later became an active volunteer at too many charitable organizations to mention here, but I think his main contribution to society was that business.

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My father was a successful businessman because he worked hard. In all time I was growing up, I never remember either of my parents watching TV for pleasure and the only movie we attended as a family was The Sound Of Music. In the winter, when the pool business was closed he worked in an ice rink, plowed snow, and eventually opened a Christmas shop.

In his mid-fifties, my parents sold the company and retired, expecting to live off the proceeds of the sale. Unfortunately the new owners mismanaged the business and reneged on their debt to my parents. So in the early 1990s, when my father was in his early 60s, they founded a second pool business, Pool ‘n Play, which they ran for a dozen years before turning it over to their employees. And even then my father didn’t retire. In his 70s he started a pool service company on Nantucket, first alone, then with my cousin Dwight, who now owns that business.

Obviously my father was a person of great energy but the professional side of his life only tells half the story. He was a gregarious and social as anyone I’ve ever known. He and my mother had a wide circle of friends – everyone from truck drivers to judges, and electricians to psychologists. And as they got older their friends got younger. Our house was always filled with people and New Years Eve was a special night. Even into the last week of his life my parents maintained a whirlwind social calendar of dominos, Christmas parties and family dinners.

My parents made friends everywhere – in Brockton, in West Bridgewater, down here in Falmouth.   They were close friends with other swimming pool company owners that they met at conventions, and they were the center of an active social scene at their condo complex in Florida. My father went to coffee every morning with an evolving group of guys and after he retired for good he took up Nantucket basket making and made a whole new group of friends there. He would not stop making friends – he knew everyone at the Hyannis ferry to Nantucket, at the hospital where he drove cancer patients to appointments. He was active in the church here – always a ray of sunshine to his fellow parishioners.   And he had a special soft spot for kids – neighbor kids, grand-nephews and nieces, kids of all kinds. He went to their high school concerts, their volleyball games, their eagle scout ceremonies and took so much pleasure seeing them grow up.

Among all the things he cared about, his biggest priority was his family. He was a devoted son, always attentive to his aging parents. He dearly loved his brothers and sisters and was especially close to my Aunt Jean. He cared deeply about the lives of my cousins and was a mentor and surrogate father to several of them.

As a father he was ahead of his time, not distant and remote like other Dads back then. He was always on the floor wrestling with us or playing with us in the backyard. He never had much free time but he always made sure we took a family vacation in the fall.   Later when I played soccer in high school he would frequently be on the sidelines, one of only two or three parents cheering us on. And he was immensely supportive of my sister and me all in all of our endeavors. Playing golf with Thalia was one of his favorite things. And over the years the two of them because closer because they shared many interests and a similar personality.

My father believe that only two people walked on water. One was our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and the other was his grandson. “Doting” is not a strong enough word to describe how he acted around Christian. Here’s just one example. My son and I graduated from the same college but it wasn’t until his grandson attended that my father started to wear the school hat. And then he’d never take it off.

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To wrap up, I remember a moment when I was a little boy and was crying because I’d just learned about death and the inevitability of loss.   My father took me in his arms and said that when it was my turn, he’d be up in heaven waiting for me and that when he saw me approaching he’d nudge his friends and say, “Here comes my boy.” It comforted me then and it comforts me now.

Bye Dad, we love you.

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6 comments
  1. What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful guy. Gary-just one more time that I know your dad is super prold of you. Love never ends.

  2. wdfyfe said:

    A fitting tribute — son to father. My sympathy for your loss.

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