Harrison County

'He loved Biloxi before he loved himself.' City reacts to passing of longtime mayor

Then-Mayor A.J. Holloway addresses the crowd during the dedication of the Biloxi Lighthouse Visitors Center on U.S. 90 in 2011.
Then-Mayor A.J. Holloway addresses the crowd during the dedication of the Biloxi Lighthouse Visitors Center on U.S. 90 in 2011. meperez@sunherald.com

A.J. Holloway, Biloxi's longest-serving mayor, died early Tuesday on election day, at home surrounded by his family, in a city where he was born and spent most of his life.

Visitation will be from 9:30 a.m. to noon Friday at Nativity BVM Cathedral in downtown Biloxi, followed by a Mass of Christian burial at noon. Entombment will be at Southern Memorial Park and family and the people of the city celebrate his life.

Holloway, 79, served as mayor for seven terms, from 1993 until he left office in 2015 for health reasons.

“It's just a remarkable life, in all phases from high school through his years as mayor,” said Vincent Creel, who Holloway hired as a spokesman for the city. “I will forever be grateful to the opportunities he gave me to have a front row seat on history."

Councilman Felix Gines, who Holloway appointed as acting mayor each time he went out of town, said the city is mourning the passing of a "Biloxi legend.”

Holloway's life reads like a movie script in some ways, putting him at the right spot in history to make a big impact.

He was a star on the Biloxi football team when he met Macklyn Bond, a majorette who became his high school sweetheart and later his wife. He earned a scholarship to the University of Mississippi and the moniker “All the Way Hollway” as a running back on the 1960 Champion Ole Miss football team.

Former President George Bush would holler that nickname when he met Holloway in Biloxi, so devastated by Hurricane Katrina that even the street signs were blown or washed away.

Bush made more than a dozen trips to South Mississippi following the storm. In his book “Decision Points,” Bush wrote that Holloway was “one of the most impressive people” he met.

“While Katrina destroyed more than 6,000 homes and businesses in Biloxi, there wasn’t an ounce of self-pity in the mayor,” Bush said. “He resolved to rebuild the city better than before.”

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So how will Holloway want to be remembered by the people who attend his funeral this week, as a star athlete, as a mayor, as the man who led the rebuilding of Biloxi after Katrina and fought for the city following the BP oil spill?

“As a family man,” his brother Kenny Holloway said. “He loved his family, he loved his God, he loved Biloxi before he loved himself.”

He made good decisions and a lot of tough ones, his brother said. “A.J. was the fellow I bounced things off of,” he said. Although sometimes startled by his brother's advice, Holloway said, “He was always right about people and situations.”

Gary Lechner and his wife, Patsy, went to see Holloway one last time on Monday and said, "He's like a brother to me."

The two men started knocking on doors and holding fundraisers when Holloway ran for Biloxi councilman and continued through his six campaigns for mayor.

Holloway inherited a city in such bad financial shape it had a junk-bond rating, according to an account in the Sun Herald. His first priority was to stabilize the city's finances and its infrastructure, and Biloxi's credit rating went from junk bond status to an A bond rating.

"I was lucky to have come in when I did," Holloway said. "Timing is everything. Casino gambling was legalized."

Thanks to the millions of dollars in casino tax revenue, Holloway was able to tell Biloxi taxpayers at each campaign that he lowered taxes several times and never raised them.

Holloway surrounded himself with good people, Lechner said, and was known as being fiscally conservative — or in a less flattering light for squeezing a dime until it screamed. Voters wanted the mayor to spend rather than save any of the casino taxes that flooded in, Lechner said. They also complained when Holloway spent money on business interruption insurance should the casinos be knocked out by a hurricane. In both cases he was proved right, Lechner said.

"I'm going to miss him. I know that," Lechner said.

Got a good story about Holloway? Contact Mary Perez: 228-896-2354, @MaryPerezSH

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