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James W. Holley III
Mayor of Portsmouth, VA

In office
July 1984 – December 1987
Preceded by Julian E. Johansen

In office
July 1996 – July 2010
Succeeded by Kenneth I. Wright
Personal details
Born (1926-11-24)November 24, 1926
Portsmouth, Virginia, United States
Died October 5, 2012(2012-10-05) (aged 85)
Portsmouth, Virginia, United States
Political party Independent[1]
Spouse(s) Mary Holley
Alma mater West Virginia State College
Religion Christian (Fellowship Christian Church)[2]

James W. Holley III (November 24, 1926 – October 5, 2012) was an American politician and dental surgeon. Holley served two terms as mayor of Portsmouth, Virginia. Both terms ended with his being recalled from office, making him the only known politician in American history to be twice recalled until Fullerton, California Councilman Don Bankhead was recalled in June 2012.[3]

Early life

Holley was born in 1926.[4][5] After graduating from Portsmouth's I. C. Norcom High School in 1944, Holley served in the United States Army during World War II, stationed in Camp Livingston in Louisiana.[6] Following the war, he attended West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University), and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1949. From there he went to Washington, D.C. where he attended dental school at the Howard University College of Dentistry, graduating in 1955.[7] He has also received an honorary law degree from West Virginia State.[8] He attended college on the G.I. Bill.[6] During a reception in the late 1950s, Holley met Virginia Union University student Mary Walker; the couple would marry in 1960.[6]

Holley was active during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s,[9] and played an integral role in the desegregation of Portsmouth, winning court battles which allowed for the equal use of the city's libraries, hospitals, restaurants and golf courses.[7][8] During the course of his involvement in the civil rights movement, Holley entertained Martin Luther King Jr. at his home on multiple occasions.[6]


Holley first served as a member of the Portsmouth City Council from 1968 to 1984, and was vice-mayor from 1978 to 1980. Upon his election in 1968, he became the first African American to serve on Portsmouth's City Council.[10] He has twice held the office of mayor, first from July 1, 1984, to December 15, 1987, and again from July 1996 to July 13, 2010.[11] Holley was also the first African American mayor in the city's history.[12] His first term came to an end when he was forced from office following an expense account scandal, becoming the first Virginia politician in modern times to be recalled.[13] Another factor in Holley's removal from office was his being linked to hate mail that was sent to community leaders.[14]

In May 2008 Holley was re-elected as mayor, narrowly defeating challenger Martha Ann Creecy in the first contested mayoral election in Portsmouth since 1996.[15] He was recalled for a second time on July 13, 2010.[3] This second effort to recall Holley began in 2009 after an assistant made a confidential complaint of verbal abuse and of being required by Holley to perform his personal errands while working on city time. The complaint was subsequently leaked to the press. The accusations prompted the Portsmouth City Council to fine Holley $2,500 and ask him to retire, citing a pattern of mistreating subordinates.[3] After Holley refused to retire, his opponents mounted a recall petition citing the allegations against him and alleging his inability to competently lead the city. The petition gathered 8000 signatures, which a judge deemed sufficient to force the ballot question of Holley's recall on July 13, 2010.[16]

Though an Independent, Holley has backed both Democrats and Republicans running for office, including Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid[17] and former Senator George Allen's 2006 re-election bid.[18] He also made a campaign contribution to Barack Obama.[19]

Holley drew criticism in 2008 for suggesting that Portsmouth needed a "black" hotel to act as a counterbalance to the "white" Renaissance Hotel.[20] Holley was an early supporter of the Renaissance; his portrait hangs in the lobby, and the hotel's ballroom is named the "Holley Ballroom."[21] He later apologized for the remark, saying that his words were "misconstrued" and "misinterpreted."[22][23]

Holley died in 2012 after suffering a stroke. He was 85.[24]


Holley was known for his stylish dress.[25][26] He appeared in the September 2007 issue of Esquire along with former Virginia Beach mayor Meyera E. Oberndorf in a feature chronicling U.S. mayors.[27]


  1. "George Allen will be in Portsmouth today with Mayor Holley". 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2007-08-26. [dead link]
  2. "Official Biography". Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Forster, Dave; Shayna Meliker. "Voters recall Portsmouth Mayor James Holley". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved July 14, 2010. 
  4. Jordan, Ida Kay (1996-12-08). "AROUND TOWN - PORTSMOUTH.(PORTSMOUTH CURRENTS)". The Virginian Pilot. Retrieved 2008-12-26. 
  5. Hoyer, Meghan (2008-04-13). "Highlighting Portsmouth’s positives has worked for a leader who once was recalled". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Russell, Lia (2008-04-22). "Portsmouth's First Citizen forged local civil rights". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Dr. James W. Holley III – Mayor of Portsmouth, VA". Social Security Administration. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "James W. Holley III 2004 Honoree". Dominion Power. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  9. Albertson, Robert Brooke (2002). "Portsmouth". Arcadia Publishing. pp. 118. ISBN 0-7385-1454-3. 
  10. "CHRONOLOGY OF NORFOLK". Norfolk Public Library. Retrieved 2007-10-19. 
  11. Davidson, Chandler (1994). "Quiet Revolution in the South: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act, 1965-1990". Princeton University Press. pp. 289. ISBN 0-691-02108-2. 
  13. Batts, Battino. "With Holley at the helm, Portsmouth prospers...". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  14. "Officials Link a Virginia Mayor to Hate Mail". The New York Times. 1987-07-14. Retrieved 2007-10-19. 
  15. McCaffery, Jen (2008-05-06). "Portsmouth mayor James W. Holley wins re-election". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 
  16. Forster, Dave (July 4, 2010). "Camps battle to rally voters on Mayor Holley's recall". Retrieved July 14, 2010. 
  17. "Clinton Campaign Announces Mayors Council". 2007-07-17. Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  18. Gruss, Mike (2006-10-30). "Pigskin in hand, Sen. Allen chats up voters". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  19. "FundRace 2008". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  20. McCaffery, Jen (2008-07-25). "Some angry at Portsmouth mayor over hotel comments". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  21. Dougherty, Kerry (2008-07-27). "Mayor Holley really ought to think before he doesn't speak up". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 2008-01-13. 
  22. Fox, Andy (2008-07-31). "EXCLUSIVE: Holley says statement was "misconstrued"". WAVY. Retrieved 2009-01-13. [dead link]
  23. Fox, Andy. "EXCLUSIVE: Andy Fox One-on-One with Mayor James Holley". WAVY. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  24. "Former Portsmouth Mayor James Holley dies at 85". 5 October 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  25. Hoyer, Meghan (2007-08-14). "Local mayor steps up to fashion plate in Esquire's photo feature". The Virginian-Pilot. Archived from the original on 2007-09-26. Retrieved 2009-01-13. 
  26. "Portsmouth mayor among America's best dressed". WVEC-TV. 2007-08-13. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  27. McCammon, Ross (2007-01-16). "Mayors' Convention". Esquire. Retrieved 2007-08-30. 

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