Garner Cleveland Record

Black History Feature: Henry and Sarah Holbrook have helped others their whole lives

Henry and Sarah Holbrook share a laugh at their home, as they prepare for bible study.
Henry and Sarah Holbrook share a laugh at their home, as they prepare for bible study. jalexander@newsobserver.com

Neither Henry nor Sarah Holbrook grew up in Garner, but it’s the place they made their mark.

They moved to Garner as a couple, with four kids in 1979. While in Garner, they had two more.

Henry, 77, was a military veteran from Mississippi, Sarah was from Charlotte. Both learned the value of giving back to people at an early age. It was how they were raised.

“I was raised to help neighbors,” Henry Holbrook said. “My grandfather would give the shirt off his back to help others, so that was kind of instilled into me that that was the thing to do.”

Sarah Holbrook echoed his sentiments.

“I’m like him. We were not raised to look at ourselves,” Sarah Holbrook said. “We were raised to look at others around us. I was taught that if you do for someone else, everything works full circle, somebody will do something for you.”

The Holbrooks have done many things around the community.

Sarah Holbrook is the director of Meals on Wheels, which provides meals to senior citizens at the Senior Center. For those who cannot make it to the center, Meals on Wheels comes out to them.

Henry Holbrook has participated in disaster relief efforts in Garner and Raleigh, and even went to New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina. When Hurricane Floyd came through Garner, the power went out for a few days. A truck for relief was passing out ice to keep residents’ food fresh. However, they were only allowing two bags a person. Both Sarah and Henry Holbrook got in line over and over to get ice for families in need.

‘Third of July, 1974’

They met in the summer of 1974 in Charlotte. Henry had moved to Charlotte from San Diego to work in the civil service. Sarah was a native of Charlotte and had been living there.

Sarah Holbrook remembers the exact day the couple met too. “The third of July, 1974,” she says. Her roommate saw Henry, a Navy reservist, who had just moved into the apartment complex. Her roommate wanted to meet him but needed Sarah to go with her. Sarah didn’t want to but she did anyway. Her roommate grabbed a beer, they put on their bath robes and headed out the door.

“I followed her like a fool up the sidewalk,” Sarah Holbrook said. “She introduced herself and said ‘I want to welcome you to the neighborhood.’”

“I can’t believe we are doing this in the middle of the broad daylight,” Sarah thought.

Sarah’s roommate then invited him to their apartment.

“This strange man that we don’t even know,” she recalls thinking. She said her roommate and Henry started talking. She gave him their number.

“But he clearly wasn’t interested because he never called her back. He called me back,” she said. “When he called, I said ‘she’s not here.’ And he said ‘I didn’t call to speak to her, I called to speak to you.’ And it started from there.”

Three years later the couple got married.

Holbrook’s job later moved him to Raleigh and they found a home in Garner on Bayberry Lane, where they reside today.

When they moved to Bayberry Lane, the neighborhood was predominately white.

“When we moved in, the “For Sale” signs went up all around us,” Sarah Holbrook said. “We were not invited to join the Homeowner’s Association. And it was not friendly.”

There wasn’t much hostility, they say, but they weren’t exactly welcomed to the neighborhood with open arms.

“Some moved and after a while some took theirs down I guess after they saw we weren’t going to hurt anybody,” she said.

“Back then when blacks moved into a neighborhood, that meant, ‘Look out. The value of property is going to go down. Others are going to follow. Crimes are going to increase. And they say well we better run while we can. And that was kind of the attitude of some of the whites,” Henry Holbrook explained.

Almost died

Henry Holbrook knows what it is like to be down and out. In 1991, he had a double aneurysm in his brain. Doctors had to perform emergency surgery to remove it. The bleeding in his brain was so bad, he almost died.

Sarah Holbrook had been waiting in the waiting room to hear how her husband was doing. A doctor walked up to her, asked her what her name was, and said, “Your husband is dying.”

“Just like that,” she said. “I said what? Who is this man? He just started talking. He didn’t introduce himself or anything.”

She found out he was the surgeon. He and his team had to transport Henry Holbrook from Rex Hospital to WakeMed to get the proper treatment.

“They were trying to keep him alive,” Sarah Holbrook said. “(The surgeon) said if we don’t get the bleeding stopped, he’s not going to make it through the night.”

The medical staff got the bleeding stopped enough to take him into surgery, she said.

After that, the doctor told her to kiss her husband goodbye, which is what Sarah Holbrook did. And she told him she’d see him after surgery. Henry Holbrook, still semi-conscious, eyes closed, but not aware of what was going on said, “OK.”

Sarah Holbrook, said it never crossed her mind that her husband would die. And sure enough, he didn’t.

Holbrook still bears the scar of the incision doctors made when performing the surgery that saved his life.

Sarah Holbrook said a defining moment in her life came when she went home one day, while her husband was in the hospital, and her neighbors were cutting her grass and trimming her hedges. They did not know what was wrong. They just knew something was wrong with Henry Holbrook and wanted to help.

Henry Holbrook is also a survivor of prostate cancer. He said he used those near-death experiences as motivation to become stronger in his faith.

“All of those incidents and others, I could have been gone,” he said. “But I know (God) kept me here for a reason. With the aneurysm, my youngest daughter was 11 and my son was five or six and when that happened, all I could think about was, ‘Hey God, I need to raise these kids and I need to be here to be an example to them, to help them, to guide them.’ So that helped me to dedicate more and more of my time to family.”

Giving back

Today, Sarah Holbrook helps run Meals on Wheels and has been doing so for the past eight years after she retired from AT&T. It wasn’t her intention to work for Meals on Wheels. A friend came up to her and said she would be the perfect person for the job. Initially hesitant she applied and she was hired a couple of days later.

Henry Holbrook, is also retired, and helps out around the town when he can. He said his joints don’t allow him to do some of the things he used to do, such as building homes for Habitat for Humanity. Two years ago, Henry Holbrook won the Dream-in-action award for his service in Garner.

They both say they will continue to help out until they can’t anymore.

“When something needs to be done, you just do it, without fanfare,” Henry Holbrook said. “And don’t think in terms of getting credit for it. You just do it.”

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