Gerald Holleman, who became mayor when Holly Springs had fewer than a thousand people and helped set it on course to become the vibrant town of 40,000 that it is today, has died.
Holleman, who served as mayor from 1983 until 2000, was instrumental in laying the foundation for the town’s development.
He was born in the rural community of Holleman’s Crossroads between Holly Springs and Harris Lake. He did farm work before taking jobs that had him traveling the country. After resettling in Holly Springs in the early 1980s, friends talked to him about running for mayor.
In a 1995 interview with Suburban Living magazine, Holleman recalled how his years of traveling for work had taught him the importance of infrastructure to a town’s ability to thrive despite economic downturns. When he first became mayor, however, Holly Springs had only a “little bitty” water system.
“This town is ideally located to grow,” he told himself, noting the growth underway in Cary and Apex. “[But] you’ve got to have infrastructure to grow.”
In the 1980s, Holly Springs was a small, predominantly minority community that lacked the tax base of larger, more affluent neighbors. Holleman worked his contacts at the state level for grants to install a sewer system and to secure more drinking water. He and other Town officials also sought the assistance of elected officials in D.C.
“After about four trips to Washington in four years, he told Suburban Living, “the word got around in the county that if you wanted any money from the federal government, you’d better beat Gerald to Washington.”
Congressman David Price recounted those meetings with Holly Springs leaders upon the passing of former Mayor and Town Board Member Parrish “Ham” Womble in 2018.
“I remember working with him and Mayor Gerald Holleman in the late 1980s to secure for Holly Springs—then a mainly African American community of some 800 people—basic water and sewer infrastructure,” Price said.
A 1987 article that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor described a rising community spirit in which a group of residents crafted Christmas decorations for Main Street because the Town lacked the money to purchase decorations.
"Nobody had any faith in this town to want to come here or want to do anything for a long time," Holleman was quoted as saying. "I think people are taking pride in the community now."
In a 1998 interview with Triangle Business Journal, developer Steve Kenney praised Holleman’s ability to help Holly Springs get its share of the economic pie. He called Holleman “one of the most effective local leaders I've ever met.”
In 1998, Holleman became town administrator, working as a full-time employee while serving his final term as mayor. Holly Springs later amended its charter to adopt the Council-Manager form of government.