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War vet Holman's life dedicated to service

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- In 1985, some 40 years after he'd returned to Albany following a unique two-year period of service during World War II, Dr. Charles Holman decided to retire.

The respected OB/GYN physician had endured 23 days of consecutive post-midnight deliveries after full days in the office when he started thinking maybe it was time to call it a career.

It's been in the 25 years since his retirement, though, that Holman has really been busy. From his daily trips to area nursing homes, hospitals or homes to visit ailing relatives, friends and acquaintances to his volunteer work with agencies like Easter Seal, Alzheimer's Relief and Red Cross to the publication of his own book of stories, Holman is one of Albany's most caring citizens.

"The things I do on a daily basis -- the visits and the volunteer work -- that's what brings me joy and satisfaction," Holman, who will turn 90 on Sept. 12, said. "My biggest blessing in life right now is spending time with my grandchildren, but I really get pleasure from visiting my brother, people who were my patients before and senior citizens who might need to know that someone cares about them.

"When I retired in 1985 after all those years of seeing patients, I found myself -- look here (Holman twiddles his thumbs animatedly) -- and that just wouldn't do. I started visiting folks I knew and folks I didn't know at hospitals and nursing homes, and that's pretty much become part of my daily routine."

In 2001, the Albany Exchange Club honored Holman as the 53rd recipient of its Golden Deeds Award, which is given each year to a person who does his or her good works outside the limelight. Mel Allen, then the chairman of the Exchange Club's awards committee, called Holman, "the busiest retired man I know."

"Dr. Holman is a fine example of a true servant, a person who does good deeds without the thought of publicity or recognition," Allen said at the time.

While Holman is widely known for his obstetrics career and for his volunteer work in retirement, less is known of his unique service during World War II.

A graduate of the Emory University Medical School, Holman served a year-long internship at Royal Victorian Hospital in Montreal before enlisting in the Army Medical Corps to help with the war effort. On the night before he was to ship to England, however, Holman was diagnosed with a kidney stone.

Following emergency surgery and recovery, he prepared again to ship out but the Army decided not to send him overseas.

"Kidney stones tend to recur," Holman said. "So the Army decided to keep me here in the States."

The newly trained doctor was sent to Boston, where he was made hospital train commander. For the next two years, he rode trains with injured American servicemen, caring for them while they were taken back to the hospitals closest to their homes.

"They'd put 30 or 40 (injured servicemen) at a time on the trains, and we'd take them back to their hometown or to the hospital closest to where they lived," Holman said. "I'd provide care for them while they were on the train.

"During that time, I took patients to 44 of the then 48 states."

One such trip provided Holman with one of his most memorable stories.

"There was a fellow on the train who was mentally disturbed because of the stress he was under," Holman said. "When I learned that, there was a big sergeant on the train who was also a nurse so I told him to stay with the patient.

"Well, the boy said he had to go to the bathroom so the sergeant let him go, but he put his foot in the bathroom door to keep him from closing it and locking it. That boy crushed the sergeant's foot, broke out the bathroom window and jumped off the train going 70 miles per hour. We pulled the cord to stop the train, but we just knew that boy was dead."

Holman let's the suspense build a bit as he retells the familiar story.

"The train stopped about two miles down the track," he said, "so we got off to look for this person's body. We didn't find it, but we found some tracks leading away from a muddy area. We found the guy, and he didn't even have a broken bone. That was just a miracle.

"We took him to the place where he lived in Texas, but I never heard anything else about him. It would be interesting to know what happened to him."

Holman is a wonderful storyteller, and at the urging of wife Anne, he collected a series of his stories for his now out-of-print book "Growing Up Southern," which was published in 2002.

"There are a lot of stories about hunting and fishing," Holman said. "My dad, through no fault of his own, didn't get to spend a lot of time with us when we were growing up. He would take the train on Thursdays to Fort Worth, Texas, to buy mules (for the landmark Holman Mule Barn in downtown Albany), and the train would get there on Sunday. He'd buy the mules on Monday to ship back.

"Well, dad had a wonderful fellow who worked for him, John Tolson, who would feed the mules early and then didn't have a whole lot else to do. So most days Tolson would harness one of the mules to a road cart and take me fishing or hunting. We did that just about every day until I was old enough to drive."

When Allen introduced Holman as the recipient of the 2001 Golden Deeds Award, he noted one more name that the long-time physician was known by. "I know people who refer to him as 'Saint Charles'," Allen said.

While Holman would no doubt humbly wave off such a notion, his deeds dictated more by an inner desire to help others than for personal recognition, those who know him best agree that's it's a fitting title.