Holman at home, where an anchor-shaped door knocker harkens to his Navy days. The retired physician has authored two books about his experience: The Black Bag and Homeward Bound. The latter includes a chapter, "Bringing Light to the Darkness," about his part in the rural electrification effort.
A LIFETIME OF SERVICES
After WWII, Elloree’s ‘country doctor’ helped rural electrification effort
The debt we as Americans owe “The Greatest Generation” is often remarked upon but seldom fully appreciated. Dr. Bob Holman, an Elmore physician—or “country doctor,” as he likes to put it—was one of those who emerged from the despair of the Great Depression to honorably serve his country with the Navy during World War II and later work with the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) staking lines for electric cooperatives across South Carolina, bringing power where it had never been before.
Holman’s father passed away when he was just four in 1929, leaving his mother, Caroline, to raise him and his younger brother with no source of income at the height of the Depression. Holman’s aunt and uncle, raising two children of their own, invited the family to come live with them in Elloree, where they stayed four years. Moving to St. Matthews in1933, his mother worked for the Works Progress Administration sewing garments for the needy.
“You talk about family, that’s family,” Holman said. “My mother worked for $12 a week and was glad to get it. We lived on a thread for a number of years with the help of friends and relatives. It was a wonderful, generous thing. I’ve never forgotten it.”
After graduating St. Matthews High School, Holman enlisted in the Navy in 1943 at 17. Holman was assigned to the destroyer escort USS Frost, which began service as an escort for convoys in the Atlantic, never losing a ship under its watch. Converting to anti-submarine warfare, the Frost was credited with sinking five German U-boats, earning a presidential citation. After the war in Europe was won, the Frost made preparations to fight the Japanese in the Pacific.
“We were in San Diego when the first bomb was dropped,” he says, “and were in Pearl Harbor when the second bomb dropped. We were anchored right there by the Arizona when the war ended, and, boy, that was a happy day. After years of blackouts at night, they could finally turn the lights on in Pearl Harbor at night, and it was wonderful sight.”
When he returned home, Holman went to work staking lines for a company working on REA projects. He worked for, among others, Max Paulling, uncle of TCE CEO Bob Paulling.
“The engineers did the maps at night. We would walk as much as 10 miles a day,” Holman said. “It was hard work, but we loved it. I ride by even now in my old age and it makes me feel good to have helped people get lights, warmth and refrigeration for safe food and drink storage.”
Holman then took advantage of the G.I. Bill to go to college, enduring a three-year detour with tuberculosis. After medical school and internship, he returned to Elloree to spend the next 50 years as a country doctor, raising two daughters with his wife, Pat.
“I’ve led a blest life and have been so fortunate to be able to give back to all those who helped me,” Holman says. “I owe my country adept of gratitude.”