Boomer Profile—Keith Holliday: a one-man civics lesson

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Fewer and fewer Americans today can say they were born, received their education and had their career all within the same ten mile radius. This has not always been the case. It’s probably a little more typical among Baby Boomers like former Greensboro Mayor Keith Holliday.

Holliday was born in 1953 at Wesley Long Hospital, formerly located at 338 North Elm Street in Greensboro. That’s just a few blocks from his current office at The Carolina Theatre from which Holliday’s childhood home was a short bus ride from Lindley Park, where his extended family owned homes on adjoining lots. This was within an easy walk to his parents’ business on Spring Garden Street, Holliday Hardware. Church—Spring Garden Friends Meeting—was just down the street. Lindley Elementary school was a safe and easy walk, too, even as early as second grade.

Higher education for Holliday was all of a ten-minute sojourn to Guilford College on Greensboro’s western edge. It was a choice that Holliday attributed partly to proximity and reputation, but also to his own Quaker roots (the school is affiliated with the Society of Friends), and, in no small measure, to the school’s generously underwritten criminal justice program that offered grants to students who agreed to go into law enforcement for at least four years after graduation.

Maybe it was all that walking, or the bus rides to the Carolina Theatre’s Saturday morning kids’ movies, or the athletics at the West Market St. Central YMCA or the family friendly neighborhoods all over town that kept Keith close to home all his adult life.

Aside from a brief 12-month stint in Durham as a State Probation officer after earning his degree, Holliday has lived and worked in Greensboro for 58 years.

“I started out in college wanting to change the world as an FBI agent,” says Holliday.

After ten years, having fulfilled his scholarship commitment, business seemed more appealing to Holliday who says, “If I wanted to leave government and get into business, I was counseled, to go into banking to learn the various business models!”

First Citizens Bank became Holliday’s employer. There, his boss decided he was just the person to run the Greater Greensboro Open golf tournament through the Greensboro Jaycees. The young branch manager immersed himself in the service organization with the backing of his employer.

“The Jaycees/GGO experience is what springboarded me into politics due to the heavy dose of leadership training,” says the former mayor.

Soon after successes with the GGO, Holliday was elected to City Council for two terms in 1995 and 1997 and in 1999 First Citizens allowed him to work part time so he could fulfill his duties as Mayor of Greensboro.

Tragedy struck Holliday and his wife Cindy with the sudden loss of their 14-year-old daughter, Camberly, from an aneurysm. Yvonne Johnson stepped in as Mayor Pro Tem for several months.

“Eventually, my therapy to manage the grief was to get back on the horse,” says Holliday who returned to the office of Mayor to not only complete his second term but to win reelection twice again before retiring from office in December 2007.

And after 20 years of employment with First Citizens, Holliday also retired from banking in April, 2008. “I realized I probably wasn’t a real banker, but more of a sales/marketer,” he says.

Scarcely three months later, another door opened. This time it was a stage door. The Board of Directors from the historic Carolina Theatre—the same place spent watching Gene Autry serials in the 50s—tapped Holliday as Chief Executive Officer.

“I’d never been in the arts world,” says Holliday, “but in this role I am the face of the Carolina Theatre with a focus on marketing & fundraising. This is more ‘me.’ It’s like running the (GGO) golf tournament once a week! There’s never a dull moment.”

Since 2008, attendance at the theater has almost doubled under Holliday’s leadership and vision.

“It’s thrilling to turn on a whole new generation to this wonderful asset!” says the former probation officer, former banker, former mayor, lifelong Greensboroan.

Holliday continues to work in excess of 50 hours per week and he is deeply involved with a variety of city arts cause’s as well occasional citizen advocacy initiatives.

Holliday admits that his city over time lost a lot of its neighborhood structure as it dissipated with a more mobile, far ranging and transient America. But his hometown pride is as effervescent as ever.

“We no longer know our next door neighbor like we used to,” says Holliday. But on the other hand, he notes, “we really have evolved into a college town with more students than Chapel Hill.

“It’s a great place for retirees and Boomers,” adds Holliday, pointing to relatively low crime, moderate cost of living and excellent services.

“Thus, a very diverse city.”

For any young citizens interested in Greensboro leadership, Holliday might be a worthy mentor. His main admonition, as demonstrated by his career(s): “Be a consensus builder and help your community govern and design its own future.”

 

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