Haywood Holderness, One of My Favorites

Yesterday was a hard day for a few reasons. I only wrote about missing my Dad on the first Father’s Day since he left us, but I got a double whammy while I was sitting in Church. Our pastor Chris started the service as he normally does with some announcements. Having the announcements before the worship service usually ensures that we concentrate on the message of the sermon, not yesterday.

After the normal nuts and bolts, Chris cleared his throat and slowed down a bit. I had no idea what was coming, but knew it was something serious. When he had gathered himself he told our congregation that our Pastor Emeritus, Haywood Holderness had passed away. It should not have come as a shock, as he had been in decline for a while, but it hit me really hard. I cried through most of church, unable to get control of myself.

Haywood is the reason I am a Presbyterian. He is responsible for my involvement in the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. He supported us when Russ accidentally cut two year old Carter’s finger and we suddenly were under investigation for child abuse.

I grew up as an Episcopalian on both sides of my family. My uncle was an Episcopal priest. Russ and I got married at Grace Episcopal in Georgetown. There was no question I would die an Episcopalian. Then when we moved to Durham we visited our neighborhood Episcopal church four Sundays and no one spoke to us. I wondered if we had landed in some Yankee church. It was not welcoming at all.

Russ had grown up Presbyterian and our friends Jan and Rex were members at Westminster and invited us to go with them. From that first visit we were not just welcomed, but embraced. Haywood was a preacher I could listen to all day. We joined right away and that first year I took a Kerygma bible study with Haywood and learned more about the Bible than I had learned in my whole life. More than the Bible, I made many wonderful friends. I went on to become a Deacon and an Elder and served on Ways and Means all under Haywood.

One day after church Haywood looked at me and said, “You need to work at the Food Bank.” At that time he was the board chair. I got involved in the Durham Branch, which had been created, along with the Greenville branch under his leadership. He held a large capital campaign called the “break Bread” campaign and got the four past governors of North Carolina to be chairmen of the campaign. (It helped that they all just happened to be Presbyterians.)

It was because of Haywood that I spent five years on the Durham Council, chairing it the last two, 14 years on the board, eventually chairing it and the last five years chairing the Round table of the Food Bank. I was honored to present the Food Bank’s highest honor, The Hunt-Morgridge Award to Haywood in 2014.

The finger incident, as it is known in our house, was the scariest thing that had ever happened to us. On New Year’s Day, 2000 Russ was doing his duty and juicing lemons for me because I am allergic to touching them. I was still asleep and Carter was up helping Russ. She stood on a chair at the kitchen counter and just before Russ went to cut a lemon in half Carter put her finger on it and he cut her finger. It was a scary accident. He screamed for me to get up and we rushed Carter to the Duke ER. Being New Years day it was the lowest people on the totem pole working. Carter got two stitches in her finger as we told them how it happened. The resident did not like our “story” and that afternoon a social worker was dispatched to our house to do a surprise investigation. He told us that we would be under investigation for the next 30 days and if anything at all happened to Carter she could be taken away from us. She was two, she easily could fall down and hurt herself and we could be permanently labeled child abusers.

I called Haywood and he made some calls and vouched for us. The social worker sheepishly came back to our house and told us we were cleared. He blamed an over zealous doctor in training. I did call that resident’s attending to say that if they really thought we were child abusers they had not done their job. Carter was dressed in a turtleneck and leggings when we brought her to the hospital. They never separated her from us and they never looked at one inch of her other than the cut finger.

Haywood was a blessing during that very scary period. He told me that Duke had picked the wrong people to accuse and he made sure everyone knew it.

Haywood and his wife Mary moved to Raliegh to the nicest retirement community so they could be regular people in retirement and not pastor to Durham. It was sad for us not to have him living two streets away. I was able to see him regularly at Food Bank events, until he and Mary both moved to the continuing care wing.

The world was a better place because of Haywood. He had an excellent way of putting things into perspective. My favorite saying of his was in relation to Gay people. When the Presbyterian church was deciding if they were finally going to allow gay people to be married in the church there were a lot of small minded Churches fighting it. Haywood’s response to the question was hard to argue with. he said, “God didn’t make no junk.” Since God made gay people, just like he made everyone else, they were OK with God, so they should be OK with everyone else. Who are we to question God?

The Service for Haywood will be this Saturday at 2:00 PM. Sadly, Russ and I will be away, but if you go you can eat some of the thumb print cookies I am furiously making for the reception following the service. It will be a joyous celebration of a big life well lived.


3 Comments on “Haywood Holderness, One of My Favorites”

  1. Penn says:

    Thank you so much for this tribute.

    • dana lange says:

      Penn, your Dad meant the world to me and my family. We are sending you, Mary, Dail and your whole family our condolences. We are so sorry we will miss his service at Westminster, which is sure to be rollicking.

      Warmly, Dana


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