W. Casper Holroyd Jr., who helped lead Raleigh city schools through desegregation and later a merger with the Wake County school system, died late Saturday.
Holroyd, who also served four terms in the N.C. House of Representatives, died shortly after being diagnosed with lymphoma, said close friends and family. He was 86.
Those who knew Holroyd described him as genuine, humble and joyous. His kindness helped steer the Raleigh schools through one of the toughest times in its history in the early 1970s, said Burley Mitchell, former chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court and Holroyd’s friend of more than 50 years.
“The community was sort of a tinderbox,” Mitchell said. “Things could have gone very differently than they did. Casper and others helped to keep things calm and get us through the crisis period. There was still resentment and resistance from people who felt they were being told by the Supreme Court how to run our schools.”
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Holroyd, an insurance agent, oversaw the merging of the Raleigh City School District with Wake County in the face of strong public opposition in 1976.
There were those who felt the city’s schools performed better than county schools, Mitchell said.
“Casper came along at an important crossroads in American education,” he said. “He helped us through a tough time. First off, he kept the group on a calm track. He was such a kind and gentle man and so considerate of everyone’s views, he managed to get people of different persuasions and beliefs to sit down together and talk about what we should do. He was so well respected a lot of people just went with it.”
His daughters, Kaye Mulkeen and Jane Holding, said it was his love of children and doing what’s right that motivated Holroyd.
“It was really the way he lived his whole life,” Mulkeen said. “He believed in fairness for all regardless of race, color or creed.”
‘Pied Piper of Halloween’
Holroyd grew up in Greenwood, S.C., and attended Duke University, where he became the manager of the football team. He was elected to the Raleigh City School Board in 1965 and became chairman four years later, a position he held for nine terms. He was inducted into the Raleigh Hall of Fame in 2008.
But the honors aren’t how he’s remembered by those who loved him. They remember his infectious joy and his capacity for fun.
His wife, Mary Holroyd, once called him the “Pied Piper of Halloween.”
Since 1994, the Holroyds hosted a family-friendly, anti-fright night Halloween party at their home, attended by more than 400 children. Guides lead children through five game stations – ping-pong ball toss, table-top bowling and the like – where they earn poker chips they can cash in for candy. It’s a tradition Holroyd started to entertain his mother-in-law, whose birthday was on Halloween.
Each summer he would open his pool to kids in the neighborhood, providing towels and free candy.
“He was the most giving person,” said Walt Sherlin, a former associate superintendent of Wake County schools. “It was never about Casper. He showed up at kids’ JV soccer games and recitals. He gave Christmas gifts to his garbage men.
“The only thing he was uncomfortable with was if the attention is about him,” Sherlin said. “He was an incredibly giving person. He had the energy and excitement of youth. He acted like 86-year old kid.”
Holroyd was an avid runner. He ran several marathons and in 1996 was one of the people who carried the Olympic torch before it arrived in Atlanta for the start of the games.
Always taking photos
No one can talk about Holroyd without mentioning his obsessive photo taking. At birthday parties, community gatherings or sporting events, he was always there, camera poised to take a shot.
He particularly showed a fondness for taking pictures of the JOY program, a Sunday school program for teens and pre-teens he started at his church, Hayes Barton United Methodist, more than 50 years ago.
JOY stands for Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. That’s the motto Holroyd lived by, said those who knew him.
Holroyd took pictures of strangers as well as friends, said longtime friend Frank Brown. During JOY’s annual retreat to Myrtle Beach, Holroyd would take pictures of people standing in line to buy tickets at the Pavilion amusement park, then jot down their names and addresses or get a business card so he could send the picture to them, Brown said.
“He would take pictures and as a result of that picture develop a relationship,” Brown said. “He was a unique individual. He will be sorely missed. The one theme running through it all, he’s just always tried to find something positive in every blasted situation.”
Holroyd was in the hospital last week but still managed to send thank you packages to the Target employees who had developed several hundred of his photos over the years, said former JOY student Kim Balentine.
Thousands of children have been affected by Holroyd, estimates Charles Hooks, a JOY alumnus who now teaches in the program.
“Casper is very infectious,” Hooks said. “You get drawn into his aura and his persona. He was always doing everything to make sure you were welcome.”
Holding, his daughter, said she promised her dad to keep the JOY program going.
“I’m going to continue to take the pictures,” she said.
Holroyd’s funeral is set for 1 p.m. Thursday at Hayes Barton United Methodist Church. It will also be streamed online via a link on the church’s website at www.hbumc.org.