PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - City officials say former Portsmouth Mayor James Holley has passed away, two weeks following an apparent stroke.
Holley, 85, served as mayor five times and was recalled twice, once in 2010 and once in 1987.
"It was very heartbreaking for him," Portsmouth City Councilwoman Marlene Randall said. "You know he had been through a lot and I believe he did not intend to leave it. He loved Portsmouth. He really loved this city."
Holley was a native of Portsmouth and a noted civil rights leader. A plaque outside of his boyhood home on North Street in downtown Portsmouth recognizes him as the city's first African American Mayor and City Council member elected in 1968. He graduated from I.C. Norcom High School in 1944.
"He was intellectual and knowledgeable," Randall said. "You couldn't help but meet him and love him.
Holley attended Dental School at Howard University College of Dentistry. His organization helped win court battles allowing equal use of the city's libraries, hospitals, restaurants and golf courses.
"He was an icon for the city of Portsmouth," Portsmouth Sheriff Bill Watson said. "He was in civil rights. He helped Portsmouth be what it is today. He's probably the best mayor we ever had."
He was named one of the best dressed mayors in the country by Esquire magazine and could often be seen driving around Portsmouth in his Corvette with the license plate "HIZHONOR."
"They will always know the name 'Jim Holley,'" Watson said. "They will always know the name."
State Senator Louise Lucas released the following statement:
"Dr. Holley was a first in many areas and a trend setter. We had our disagreements in the past, but they were behind us. I worked for his re-election, and in the campaign to save him from being recalled for the second time. He was a fashion icon. He was the best dressed mayor, and he will be missed by all who knew him."
Holley's obituaries reads as follows:
THE HONORABLE JAMES WHITEING HOLLEY, III WAS BORN IN PORTSMOUTH, VIRGINIA IN 1926. HE GRADUATED FROM HOWARD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF DENTISTRY AND PRACTICED IN THE CITY OF PORTSMOUTH FOR 50 YEARS. HE SERVED AS A CITY COUNCILMAN FIRST AND THEN THE MAYOR. HE IS PRE-DECEASED BY HIS PARENTS, LAURA AND JAMES W. HOLLEY, JR. AND HIS BROTHER, CLARENCE HOLLEY. HE IS SURVIVED BY HIS WIFE OF 52 YEARS, MARY W. HOLLEY, THEIR CHILDREN, JAMES IV, ROBIN, OMAR AND CHERYL AND THEIR 12 GRANDCHILDREN. A LIFE CELEBRATION SERVICE WILL BE HELD AT WILLETT HALL, 3701 WILLETT DRIVE, PORTSMOUTH FROM 5-7PM ON THURSDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2012. IN LIEU OF FLOWERS, THE FAMILY REQUEST DONATIONS BE MADE TO THE PORTSMOUTH RAILROAD MUSEUM
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