Longtime mayor John D. Holland dies in Jackson

Published 11:49 pm Saturday, May 12, 2012

The man who christened Vicksburg “The Red Carpet City of the South” and made it the home of the Miss Mississippi pageant was remembered Saturday as a great mayor who had the city at heart.

John Dale Holland died Friday, May 11, 2012, in Jackson. He was 89.

“He was one of the best personalities we ever had,” said longtime former City Clerk Marie Pantoliano. “He would have phone calls from all over the United States. I was amazed at all of the people he knew.”

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Holland was elected mayor in 1957, and in what proved to be a forward-looking coup, brought the Miss Mississippi pageant here the following year, when Mary Ann Mobley was selected as the state winner and went on to become Miss America.

The following year, Lynda Mead won the Miss Mississippi crown and also went on to win the national title. Over the years, Holland served as master of ceremonies for the pageant many times and often judged Miss America-affiliated state pageants.

“He was very concerned about our tourist trade,” said Pantoliano, 91, clerk from 1950 to 1986. “He named Vicksburg ‘The Red Carpet City of the South’ and worked tirelessly with the tourist crowd. He knew tourism would be great for the Vicksburg economy.”

“He was a great mayor and a wonderful guy,” said Oren Bailess, 82.

Bailess credited Holland with helping him win election as Warren County chancery clerk during Holland’s mayoral tenure, and said he counted Holland among his personal friends.

“He carried a pocketful of rings — they looked like diamond rings, but they weren’t real,” said Bailess, whose son dated Holland’s daughter for a time in high school. “He’d reach into his pocket and pull one out, and the girls loved it.”

“He was good for Vicksburg,” added his wife, Betty Bailess, 82. “He had Vicksburg in his heart.”

Frances Koury, who along with her husband, Ellis Koury, operated Koury’s Children’s Shop in downtown Vicksburg during Holland’s years in office, remembered him well.

“He was a great mayor with a lot of charisma, and people liked him,” said Koury, whose children grew up with the Holland children. “Everybody liked his wife, Sara, too,” Koury added. “I used to play bridge with her.”

Holland was born in Jonesboro, La. He received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1943 from Louisiana Tech University, where he was student body president, earned a spot in Who’s Who among Students in American Colleges and Universities and was awarded the leadership award from Kappa Sigma Fraternity.

Holland was a veteran of the U.S. Navy, achieving the rank of lieutenant. He served in the Pacific Fleet submarine service and attended midshipman school at Notre Dame University and communications school at Harvard University.

Before being elected mayor, Holland was general manager of Early Chevrolet and later co-owner of Holland and Harris, a Dodge-Plymouth dealership.

Among his awards and commendations were the Outstanding Young Man in Mississippi award, the Mississippi Jaycees Distinguished Service Award Vicksburg’s Man of the Year and, in 1959, Outstanding Mayor or the Year for cities with population of 10,000 and more. President Jimmy Carter recognized Holland in 1980 for exceptional service to others, and Holland also received the United Negro College Fund Distinguished Leadership Award in 1980.

He was re-elected twice as Vicksburg mayor, resigning the office in 1968 to go to work at Mississippi Power & Light, now Entergy, in Jackson. Holland remained with MP&L for many years, where his positions included assistant to the president, Central Division manager, vice president for area affairs and executive vice president of governmental affairs.

Holland served on many civic groups, organizations and boards, including the American Cancer Society, Mississippi Division; the Mississippi Museum of Art; 4-H Advisory Council; Better Business Bureau of Mississippi; Mississippi Heart Association; Juvenile Diabetes Foundation; and Easter Seals.

He served on the advisory boards for St. Dominic Hospital, Hinds Community College and Alcorn State University Foundation, was president of the Mississippi Jaycees, vice president of National Jaycees and U.S. Junior Chamber International Senator.

The Home Place in Madison, a residential retirement community for disadvantaged elders, gave Holland its award for selfless board member dedication and service in December.

“He had a heart as big as a truck,” Oren Bailess said.

He was a member of Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church and president of his Brotherhood Sunday School class many times.

Holland was preceded in death by his wife of 49 years, Sara Jean Jones Holland of Woodville.

He is survived by four children, John Dale “Skipper” Holland, Jr., Cheryl “Sherry” Rula, Mark Whitaker Holland and Sara Ragsdale; four grandchildren; and four great grandchildren.

Services will be Wednesday at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. Visitation will be at the church Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. and Wednesday from 10 until the hour of service. Burial will be at Lakewood Memorial Cemetery on Clinton Boulevard. The Rev. J. Ligon Duncan and the Rev. Brister H. Ware will officiate.

The family requests memorials may be made to First Presbyterian Church, 1390 N. State St., Jackson, MS 39202 or the Mississippi Kidney Foundation, 3000 Old Canton, Suite 110, Jackson, MS 39216, www.kidneyms.org.