William Holmes Small

Published 10:48 pm Monday, August 26, 2013

William Holmes Small, 95, died on Aug. 25, 2013, surrounded by his devoted wife and children.



Holmes was born in Suffolk on Aug. 2, 1918, the son of the late Robert Letcher Small and Sybelle Holt Byrd Small. A lifelong resident of Suffolk, he was a graduate of Suffolk High School, where he was on the football team and the wrestling team. His military service included a tour of duty in the South Pacific and Japan in World War II and another tour during the Korean War. After World War II he worked for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard for 37 years, holding various jobs and retiring early at age 58. His business career continued with years in real estate as a partner with RTR Realty in Suffolk, and then later worked with CDI Marine in Norfolk and Parr Funeral Home in Suffolk.

Holmes accepted Christ at an early age and was a lifelong member of the First Baptist Church of Suffolk, where he served on the Board of Deacons and was named a “life” deacon. He was also past superintendent of Sunday school and past president of Brotherhood, as well as director and teacher of numerous Sunday School departments.

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He was very involved in the community and served as a volunteer frequently for organizations he believed in and championed. He was actively involved with and a great supporter of the Suffolk Chapter of the American Red Cross, serving on the board and volunteering with the blood bank. He was a past president of the Suffolk Chapter of the AARP. Holmes was active with the Shriners and was Past Master of Hiram Lodge No. 340 (now Nansemond Lodge No. 77), a member of and active with the Royal Arch Chapter No. 20, Portsmouth Commandery No. 5, Khedive Shrine Temple, a charter member of Suffolk Shrine Club and Past Commander American Legion Post No. 57. He was a member of the Suffolk Nansemond Historical Society, where he recently collaborated on one of their newsletters and a past member of The Suffolk German.

As a young man, Holmes loved to fly small planes (especially open cockpit, bi-wing ones) and was a member of The Peanut City Flying Club. On weekends he would fly with his buddies and especially enjoyed performing aerobatics. He also volunteered to do search and rescue flights with the Civil Air Patrol. He was a lifelong sportsman who loved boating, hunting and fishing. In his later years, even after his sight began to fail, Holmes was an avid golfer with the help of his numerous friends and “spotters.” He loved playing canasta with his friends and telling stories of the old days, of flying and growing up on “Chicken Hill” (a Suffolk neighborhood centered around Pinner Street). He was an adventurer and traveled with his grown children through Europe and parts of the United States, but he was a Virginian through and through and was always glad to return home. He instilled a great sense of appreciation for history and family history in his children and grandchildren. He was enormously proud of his service to his country in the U.S. Army during the 1940s and 1950s, and remained in touch with many of his veteran friends for decades afterward, even reuniting annually across the country, with Lena and their wives. He studied the etiquette for displaying the American flag and was always willing to educate others on how to do it properly. He was an avid collector of patriotic poems, coins and stamps. He maintained an active life full of friends and service until the end of his life. His family was always amazed that he “knew everybody,” managing to remember the names and details of people from all walks and generations. He fought a valiant fight against cancer and aging with a sense of humor and a deep, abiding faith. Those who knew him knew that he was always “thankful,” and indeed he was.

He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Lena Dickenson Thornton Small. He is also survived by his three children, William Holmes Small Jr. of New Mexico, Evelyn Small Traub (husband David) and Christopher Thornton Small, of Richmond; his grandchildren, Leanne Anderson Small Fox (husband Jeff), Steven Anderson Small, Kathryn Anderson Small and Dylan Anderson Small, Michael and Adam Traub; his great-grandson Henry Atwell Fox; and a host of nieces, nephews and friends. He was preceded in death by brother, Robert Landes Small, and his sister-in-law, Edythe Ballard Small.

The family will receive friends on Wednesday night at Parr Funeral Home from 7 to 8 p.m. for visitation. A funeral service will be held on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church, with the Rev. Charles W. Thompson and Dr. Thurman R. Hayes Jr. officiating. Burial with military honors and Masonic rites will follow at Cedar Hill Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that friends donate to the First Baptist Church Building Fund or the Suffolk Chapter of the American Red Cross. Condolences may be registered at www.parrfuneralhome.com.

The family would like to thank his numerous doctors and caregivers. Everyone was so compassionate. Their patience and kindness lessened the burdens of a difficult time.

Holmes will be forever missed by his family and many friends. We all know now that, as a favorite poem of Holmes’ by John Gillespie Magee Jr. puts it, that he has “slipped the surly bonds of earth … and touched the face of God.”