Howard County was Richard Holmes' stage. When the Elkridge resident wasn't performing as Santa Claus at nursing homes, acting with local theater troupes or serving as a Howard historian on a local government access television show, he was displaying his expertise as a poultry enthusiast at county fairs.
Mr. Holmes, 81, who passed away Sept. 26, will be remembered at a memorial service in December at Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City, where he attended.
Longtime friend Wendy Feaga said Mr. Holmes took part in several drama productions at the church — including one where he entered as Santa Claus on a scooter cart.
"He was a professional Santa Claus," said Ms. Feaga of Ellicott City, who said Mr. Holmes passed away from natural causes. "When I would go someplace [looking for Mr. Holmes], I would say, 'Is Dick Holmes here? He looks like Santa Claus.' And they would go and pick him out. He was a jolly old elf, just a 'ho, ho, ho.'"
Born Dec. 30, 1931, in Lansing, Mich., to Irvin and Sarah Holmes, Mr. Holmes and his family moved to Takoma Park when he was about 10 years old, Ms. Feaga said. He later taught special education students in Houston in the 1960s, then returned to Maryland and served as a private drama and music coach.
He became a well-known Howard County historian, and recounted local lore as a producer and narrator for Howard County Government Television, the county's government access channel. The Howard County Council honored Holmes in 2008 for taking part in 300 shows for the channel.
Mr. Holmes was also a member of the Fabulous 50+ Players, a Howard County Arts Council musical theater program for seniors.
Ms. Feaga said he traveled with other acting groups and even had an appearance on Broadway. She said he acted at the former Burn Brae Dinner Theatre in Burtonsville, and played Santa Claus at shopping malls and at private parties.
Yet for many Howard residents, Mr. Holmes was known for his role as poultry superintendent for the Howard County Fair. He served as a poultry judge and conveyed his knowledge about ducks, geese, pigeons, turkeys and pheasants from as early as the 1960s, passing on expertise that he said dated back to his father and grandfather.
"Mr. Holmes was a staple at the Howard County Fair," said Blair Hill, president of the Howard County Fair board of directors. "For anyone involved with the Howard County Fair, he was one of those faces you knew you were going to see. He's going to be missed."
Ms. Feaga said she first began working with Mr. Holmes at the Howard County Fair in 1970, when he was poultry superintendent and she was a member of the 4-H organization that showed rabbits and chickens.
"Later on, I started doing the paperwork for the open class poultry department, because he was hopeless with paperwork," she said.
The Maryland State Poultry Fanciers Association said on its website that Mr. Holmes helped launch the association after visiting the Virginia State Fairgrounds and taking note of the Virginia Poultry Breeders Association in 1963.
Ms. Feaga said he worked tirelessly while others would have been preparing for retirement. In 1997, he sought to polish his experiences by taking part in Green Thumb, a federally funded employment and training program for seniors in Howard and other Maryland counties.
"What wonderful training sessions," said Holmes in a 1997 Baltimore Sun article about the program. "They teach you all the things you used to know about getting a job."
At the time, Mr. Holmes was giving seminars for interns and performing other duties at the county's cable channel. "He is a great teacher, especially for our young people," said station manager Greg Wright in the 1997 Sun article. "And he is willing to fill in anywhere."
Ms. Feaga said collecting model trains was among Mr. Holmes' other hobbies. She said his trains filled 27 eight-gallon storage containers, and added that Mr. Holmes was a member of the National Railway Historical Society.
Mr. Holmes recently had become a resident at the Encore nursing facility in Ellicott City.
A memorial service to celebrate Mr. Holmes' life is planned for Saturday, Dec. 28, at the Historic Chapel of Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City. Ms. Feaga said he had no close surviving relatives.