Sunday, February 26, 2017

William Ralph Holliman, 1924-2017, a 6th Great Grandson of Christopher Hollyman, 1618-1691

by Glenn N. Holliman

A Member of the Greatest Generation Leaves Us....

Ralph with his grand daughter, Rachel, ca 1990 

After a short, sudden illness, Ralph Holliman, the youngest son of Ulyss (1884-1965) and Pearl Caine Holliman (1888-1955) passed away February 20th in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  He was surrounded by his wife, Laura, two daughters - Pam and Kathy - and granddaughter Rachel.  Ralph died at age 92 blessed with decades of retirement and numerous decades of management achievement with a national corporation.  H. Bishop Holliman (1919) age 97, my father is the remaining survivor of a family of seven children.

Ralph was born in Irondale, Alabama, a working person's suburb of the rapidly growing city of Birmingham, a then young metropolis that produced steel for the nation.  In 1917, his father, Ulyss, had moved his growing family of eventually seven children from rural Fayette County, Alabama and found lifetime work as a carpenter repairing street cars.  

Right, Ralph in 1925 in the arms of his Mother at 2300 3rd Avenue North, Irondale, Alabama. The child on the porch is Bishop Holliman, b 1919.

Left, Motie Chism and Ralph in 1943.

Ralph grew up during the Great Depression and married his high school sweet heart Motie Chism, a union that lasted sixty years until her death in 2003. She was 17 and Ralph 18, a war time marriage as he was off to the U.S. Army a few weeks after their brief honeymoon in February 1943.  With the exception of a brief visit to one of his army training stations, she would not see him again until the summer of 1945 after her husband served as a clerk in the Army Air Corp in England and France.

Using the G.I. Bill, Ralph enrolled in Birmingham-Southern College in 1945 but with the arrival of the first child in 1947, he found full time work in the office of American Bakeries. After many transfers and promotions, he retired in the early 1990s from the same company as a national vice president located in Chicago. 

A direct descendant from Christopher Hollyman (1618-1691), the English immigrant who migrated to Virginia in 1650, Ralph's long life encompassed a considerable portion of the American experience.  

In 1968, Motie and Ralph celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.  

One of the most intriguing aspects of genealogy is observing the tapestry of American history in one's ancestors

It was in my uncle's generation and those of my grandparent's that emerging technologies and engineering transformed the way Americans lived. Ralph's parents began their marriage in 1906 as farmers living and working much as countless generations before them had so done.  It was during their time and Ralph's that the American economy and standard of living vastly improved.  

A quiet and private man, but with a wry sense of humor, in 1998 he wrote nine pages of memories.   Below is a portion of this manuscript.  My uncle's own words capture an America about to move into a world of conveniences and technologies we now take for granted.

"I Remember - Every Monday morning Mama would wash clothes on the back porch.  We had a big black washing pot in the back yard over a fire that boiled all of the clothes.  Mama had a wash board that she used to scrub the clothes.  I can still see her working over the wash tubs with sweat covering her face.  When the clothes were ready to hand out to dry they were usually hung on the fence or bushes.  Mam finally got a clothes wringer that helped a great deal.

- We did not have inside bathroom plumbing until I was 7 or 8 years old.  The out house was located about 100 feet up our back yard.  The day that we got an inside bathroom was a great day.  Daddy built the bathroom using part of a bedroom.

Ulyss Holiman with the family dog in the early 1920s in a bountiful garden.

- We had chickens, a cow and a garden.  Old Charlie would come and plow the field for Daddy and we grew corn mostly in the larger field and vegetables in a smaller garden.  Mama would catch a chicken and wring its neck and cook it for dinner.  I could never bring myself to wring a chicken's neck.  The cow every now and then would eat bitter weeds and the milk would then taste bad.  Mama always did the milking.

- Churning the milk and making fresh butter and buttermilk.

- That we did not have sliced bread in the house until I was 10 or 12 years old. Mama and Daddy made biscuits every morning for breakfast and corn bread for the other meals.  We always had steak and white gravy and biscuits for Sunday breakfast.

 - We had an ice box and the ice man would come around almost every day.  Ice cost 10 to 25 cents.

- I could not wear long pants for the first 10 years or so.  I had to wear knickers. Why I do not know.

 - Mama crocheting and sewing at night while listening to the radio..  We had Zenith radio.  Some of the popular radio programs were Lum and Abner, Amos and Andy, etc.

 - ...Marie, a black woman, could come to the house and work in the kitchen.  I remember one time when I was probably 15 that I told Marie that I had to go shave and she laughed.

 - Aunt Vista standing in front of the fire place smoking a cigarette and on top that she was divorced.  How could anyone be that bad I thought. 

Left, in 1985 Bishop and Ralph Holliman with their Aunt Vista Gumpp, 1898-1986.

- One day while Mama and Daddy were away, my brother and sister - Bishop and Virginia - decided we needed a telephone.  We called the telephone company and had them come and install one. Luckily Mama and Daddy did not have it taken out,

- That Daddy did not spend a lot of time with us children.  Now I realize that he worked six days a week leaving home probably around 5:30 am and turning from work around dark. He walked to town, caught the bus and then changed to a street car in Woodlawn.  He was tired.

- That in the middle of March 1943, I was drafted into the Army and went to Ft. McPherson in Atlanta.  This nearly 19 year old boy was gone from home for the first time and not knowing what was in store for him, cried all night."

Right - April 1944 in Bournemouth, England with the U.S. Army Air Corp and an unidentified buddy.

In 2007, after four years a widower, Ralph married Laura Mills and found a new happiness in the last decade of his life.  There was golf, gardening, travel and family.

 Ralph and Laura on his 90th birthday

Below in Wales in the early 2000s with Kathy, Pam and Rachel

Uncle Ralph, a constant in my life for my seventy years, has passed away from us, but his influence will continue for generations.  He leaves two very talented and scholarly daughters and a grand daughter who edits books.  

As Kathy wrote in his obituary, "He was a strong and steady presence in their lives, a man who knew his own mind but continued to be open to change."  Well could these words apply to the incredible generation that his life encompassed. - GNH

The full document of Ralph Holliman's memories can be found under his name at, a virtual archives for the extended family.  Go to the Resource Page and enter his name in the Search Box.  One will find over 1,750 manuscripts on Holliman and associated families.

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