Activist & Former San Bernardino City Mayor Laid to Rest
(SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) – Memorial services will be held yesterday for William Robert “Bob” Holcomb at 10:00 am, at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church located at 1575 W. 17th Street in San Bernardino, California. Also known as W. R. “Bob” Holcomb, he passed away on November 29, 2010 in Loma Linda, California from heart failure. He was 88 years old.
Born March 1, 1922, in San Bernardino, California, the third of four children born to Mr. and Mrs. Holcomb, Bob’s roots can be traced back to a pioneering family. In 1860 his great grandfather, William Francis Holcomb, discovered gold in an area of Big Bear now known as Holcomb Valley.
Raised in San Bernardino, Mayor Holcomb grew up on 20th Street, between “D” and “E” Streets and attended Elliot Grammar School, Arrowview Middle School and graduated from San Bernardino High School in 1940.
Heeding the call to serve his country, Mayor Holcomb enlisted in the United States Army on October 13, 1942. During his time in the Army, he was stationed in England and was a B-17 pilot with the 412th Bomb Squadron, 95th Bomb Group. He was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant on November 30, 1944 and was honorably discharged on October 26, 1945.
After World War II ended, he attended and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with his B.A. in Juris. Following graduation from UC Berkeley, he then attended UC Hastings College of the Law where he earned his law degree in 1950. He married Pearl “Penny” Pennington on July 7, 1946 and their marriage bore four children – Jay, who passed away in 1977, Terri Lee, William, and Robert.
Mayor Holcomb practiced law for 14 years and in 1959, he wrote the by-laws for San Bernardino’s first sister city, Tachikawa, Japan. The relationship between the two cities has endured for 51 years and in addition to being a host family for exchange students from Tachikawa, Japan, the Holcombs also hosted students from Greece, Brazil, and Mexico.
As an activist, he led and won the fight in 1964 to maintain the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District independent of the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District. Later that year, Mayor Donald G. “Bud” Mauldin appointed him to the Board of Water Commissioners where he served as Board President until he resigned.
In 1970 he decided to follow in his father, Grant Holcomb’s footsteps, who served as Mayor of San Bernardino from 1925-1927. He decided to challenge then incumbent Mayor Al C. Ballard, winning the election and was re-elected twice, serving from 1971 until 1985. In 1989, he sought one more term as Mayor and was successfully elected to serve once again.
His political career as Mayor ended in 1993. Having served 18 years as Mayor, holding the distinction of having been the longest serving Mayor in the history of San Bernardino.
In his capacity as a public servant, Mayor Holcomb was instrumental in bringing California State College, now known as California State University San Bernardino, to our City. He was also responsible for the development of the Center for Individuals with Disabilities and worked with former Assemblyman Terry Goggin to bring the funds needed to build Seccombe Lake Park.
In addition, the Norman Feldheym Library, the 5th Street Senior Citizens Center, and the Rudy Hernandez Community Center were built during Mayor Holcomb’s tenure. He also laid the foundation for the formation of a regional transportation system now known today as Omnitrans, serving as its first Chairman of the Board.
It was also during his tenure as Mayor, that the City of San Bernardino experienced much of its development, most notably in the Hospitality Lane area and the industrial properties in the northern areas of San Bernardino, near California State University.
Mayor Holcomb also vigorously resisted efforts to allow the relocation of Community Hospital to a neighboring city and succeeded in keeping the hospital in San Bernardino. Through his collaborative efforts with the Board of Supervisors, the Inland Valley Development Agency was created, to oversee the development of the former Norton Air Force Base.
Interested also in the cultural life of San Bernardino, with the assistance of his wife Penny, Mayor Holcolmb used his influence to preserve the house that was owned by Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan and that home, known as the Heritage House, is now home to the Pioneer and Historical Society of San Bernardino.
A strong advocate of community betterment, as Mayor, he approved and encouraged the formation of the International Council for Friendship and Goodwill bringing together all of our ethnic communities and sister cities under one umbrella. He would go on to establish a position for a Cultural and International Affairs Director in the Mayor’s Office.
He also encouraged community leaders to save the Sturges School Auditorium for the benefit of cultural arts and played a key role in organizing the Bicentennial Commission to celebrate our country’s 200th birthday. One year later, in 1977, the City of San Bernardino was named as an All America City and entered floats in the world-renowned Tournament of Roses Parade.
In his capacity as Mayor, he was active with the United States Conference of Mayors, National League of Cities, and the League of California Cities. Mayor Holcomb was a lifelong member of the Elks Lodge, a member of the Kiwanis Club, a 51-year member of the Native Sons of the Golden West, and he led fund- raising campaigns for the United Way and the YMCA.
Mayor Holcomb was an avid sportsman, enjoying a wide range of sports, including swimming, fishing, hunting, and skiing. He and his wife, Penny, were married for 65 years. He is survived by his wife, Penny, daughter, Terri Lee Holcomb-Halstead, two sons, William Winfield Holcomb and his wife, Debbie, of Los Angeles, and Robert Grant Holcomb and his wife, Julie, of Walnut Creek, two granddaughters, Savannah and Jesse Holcomb of Los Angeles, and his sister, Kathryn “Kate” Lee Dole of Santa Barbara. He was predeceased by his brothers, Ted Holcomb and Grant Holcomb, Jr.