Arkansas State Rep.-elect Mike Holcomb, left, escorts Pine Bluff Alderwoman Irene Holcomb into the ballroom for the dinner to honor her 23 years of service to the city at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Thursday. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Wanda V. Neal, left, gives a kiss to Irene Holcomb during the dinner to honor the Pine Bluff alderwoman at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Thursday. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
Janice L. Roberts speaks during the dinner to honor Irene Holcomb at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Thursday. (Special to the Commercial/William Harvey)
If Irene Holcomb wasn’t previously aware that she’s admired and appreciated, Pine Bluff’s first black alderwoman ought to know now.
The Ward 1 representative, who will be succeeded by her son — Lloyd Holcomb Jr. — in January, received a royal salute Thursday night from about 250 constituents at a convention center dinner. The evening was a blend of historical perspective, humor and emotional insights.
Holcomb, first elected in 1988, downplayed her authority as an alderwoman.
“I only consider myself a servant,” she said. “I called myself the cheerleader for Pine Bluff. I want my son to be the drum major.
“But know the band is behind you,” she continued as she glanced toward her son. “Don’t use the pronoun ‘I.’ Use the pronoun ‘we.’”
Former Alderman Calvin Booker Sr., now corporate vice president of public affairs for the Southern Sector of Waste Management Inc. in Atlanta, recalled serving with Holcomb from 1988-91.
“I knew from day one that Irene was a leader,” said Booker, noting that she was “always focused on people” instead of her position. “She told me that we weren’t here for us, we were here to serve the people.”
He described her as “a servant with a servant’s heart” and praised her for showing compassion “for the least of these” while still being able to “walk with the giants.”
“She served without serving herself,” Booker said.
Another of her former council colleagues, insurance executive Dale Dixon, said serving beside Holcomb was “a true honor” because of her strong character.
“I always respected her because you didn’t want to make her mad,” he laughed.
Former Pine Bluff resident Pat Lile, chief executive officer of the Arkansas Community Foundation, suggested that if Holcomb — a retired educator — was to receive a report card on her life, she would have several F’s. Lile said Holcomb is a friend who’s faithful to her family and community duties, strong in her Christian faith, forthright, fair, funny, flexible and fascinating.
Holcomb’s 13-year-old grandson, Rodney Holcomb Jr., called his grandmother “energetic and charismatic.”
Simmons First Chief Executive Officer Tommy May said Holcomb will be missed “tremendously” as an alderwoman “for all she has done and what she stands for.”
Jefferson County Judge Mike Holcomb, who read a proclamation thanking the retiring Holcomb for her public service, credited the alderwoman with helping him win election to his post.
“Half the black folk here thought I was a member of her family,” joked the judge, who is white.
Mike Holcomb and his wife, Dee Holcomb, escorted Irene Holcomb and her husband, Lloyd Holcomb Sr., to the head table once the dinner began.
Holcomb also received citations from Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., state Sen. Henry “Hank ” Wilkins IV, state Rep. Stephanie Flowers, Tiffani Butler of Gov. Mike Beebe’s staff, Police Chief Brenda Davis-Jones and Fire Chief Shauwn Howell.
Holcomb said that she may miss being a council member, but she’s ready to step down. She’s also pleased that her son will take her chair.
“Electing my son was the greatest gift the first ward could ever have given me,” she said.