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Joseph S. Holman, 93, a leading business executive in South Jersey

Mr. Holman was all business at work. At home, though, he and his wife kidded each other relentlessly. One point on which they disagreed was whether he or she had the highest ranking in the Merchantville High School class of 1944. The point was never resolved.

Joseph S. Holman
Joseph S. HolmanRead moreCourtesy of the Holman Family (custom credit)

Joseph S. Holman, 93, of Moorestown, a leading business executive in South Jersey, died Thursday, Dec. 12, at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital from complications of a stroke he had suffered earlier in the week.

Mr. Holman oversaw the growth of an enterprise his father established in 1924. He took a Ford car and tractor dealership serving South Jersey and Pennsylvania and expanded it into Holman Enterprises, a diversified company with nearly 7,000 employees.

Based in Mount Laurel, it has outlets across the country. It has 37 car dealerships, a fleet management enterprise, an insurance agency, a financial services company, a parts distributorship, and a truck outfitting entity.

Like many executives, he gave work his full attention. But what set Mr. Holman apart, his family said in a statement, were “kindness and humility, qualities not typically associated with business success.”

He was especially devoted to those who worked for Holman Enterprises, whom he called “his people,” his family said. “To him, they still were always people first — with real lives, loves, and struggles — and workers second. Even at the end of his life, there was nothing he enjoyed more than speaking with ‘his people.’”

Born in Philadelphia in 1926 to Katherine K. and Steward C. Holman, he grew up in Pennsauken and Merchantville. At Merchantville High School, he was an outstanding basketball player as well as a trumpet player in the marching band. Eventually, he became the band’s drum major.

Mr. Holman met Jean Preston Polk at Merchantville High. They married in 1950 and enlivened their marriage with good-natured ribbing about which had achieved the highest class rank in high school. They never resolved the issue.

“Both of them had a really good sense of humor,” said son-in-law Frank Beideman. “They just had a whole bunch of fun.”

Mr. Holman graduated from high school in 1944. His dream was to fly in the Army Air Corps, but his eyesight did not cooperate.

Instead, he enlisted in the Navy and attained the rank of radio electronics technician third class. He liked to say that his most significant contribution to the war effort was “plugging in a movie projector that his shipmates could not start, thereby preventing a mutiny.”

After leaving the service in 1946, Mr. Holman attended Princeton University on the GI Bill. He played varsity basketball all four years. His team won the Ivy League title his junior year.

Mr. Holman described his academic performance in college as less than stellar. He told his family he skipped classes for three months during his senior year to finish a thesis that was required for graduation.

He graduated in May 1950 and married a month later. In 1952, the couple lived in Haddonfield. They moved to Moorestown in 2007.

Mr. Holman considered attending the Wharton School and discussed the possibility with his father. The elder Holman said: “You graduated from high school, you served your country, you went to Princeton. If you want to ever work in this company, you’ll show up at 9 Monday morning.”

Mr. Holman did — and continued to show up for the next 69 years, until his health failed him a week and half ago.

When not working, Mr. Holman enjoyed playing golf. He maintained memberships at Merchantville, Tavistock, and Pine Valley Country Clubs. Some of his closest friendships were formed and cultivated on the fairways. His wife objected to all the time he spent on the links, and never let him forget it, the children said.

His wife died in 2010. He is survived by sons Jeff and Steve; daughter Mindy Beideman; five grandchildren; a nephew and nieces; and his companion, Peg Tomlinson.

Visitations will be held Wednesday, Dec. 18, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., and Thursday, Dec. 19, from 9 to 11:15 a.m., at First Presbyterian Church of Moorestown, 101 Bridgeboro Rd. Services will follow at 11:30 a.m. Interment will be private.

Donations may be made to UrbanPromise, Box 1479, Camden, N.J. 08105.