Thursday, July 27, 2000

Holcomb's funeral a sad, spectacular farewell

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — John F. Holcomb's children learned early in life how fearless he was.

        When the Butler County prosecutor received death threats over the telephone, he would challenge the callers to meet him in an alley, said Dr. John Lewis, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Hamilton, in a eulogy at his funeral service Wednesday.

        The gruff prosecutor would scoff when his children would express fear for his safety.

        “He'd say to them, "Don't you know by now that anyone who is going to kill you isn't going to warn you ahead of time?'” said the Rev. Dr. Lewis, church pastor.

        Laughter echoed through the stately, brick church packed with nearly 500 mourners. The story was vintage Mr. Holcomb.

        In a touching church service and a spectacular funeral procession through downtown Hamilton, hundreds of people bade Mr. Holcomb a heartfelt farewell.

        Mr. Holcomb, who was county prosecutor for 27 years, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack at River Downs racetrack in Anderson Township. The 63-year-old Hamilton resident was the longest-serving prosecutor in Ohio.

        At his family's request, Mr. Holcomb received a

        funeral service with full police honors, including a procession down High Street.

        After the 45-minute church service, nine deputies placed the flag-draped coffin on the sheriff's horse-drawn caisson.

        A police motorcade led the long procession that included the sheriff's bagpipe unit, the caisson, a riderless horse and about 25 police cruisers with flashing lights.

        A large contingent of county officials and employees of the prosecutor's office walked behind the riderless horse, symbolic of a fallen leader.

        The procession stopped for a moment of silence when the caisson reached the old county courthouse, where Mr. Holcomb argued hundreds of cases and built his reputation as a hard-nosed prosecutor and a superb trial strategist.

        Scores of people lined High Street and solemnly watched the procession.

        The caisson passed under an arc formed by two tall fire truck ladders. When the caisson reached the Government Services Center, which houses the prosecutor's and other county offices, deputies transferred the coffin to a hearse.

        The hearse, family members and friends proceeded to Miltonville Cemetery in Madison Township for a private ceremony. Mr. Holcomb's parents are buried in the small cemetery.

        County Commissioner Courtney Combs said it has to be one of the largest, most elaborate funerals ever held in Butler County.

        “I've never seen anything like it,” he said. “It was very appropriate.”

        Mr. Holcomb struggled with his health in the past four years. He suffered a near-fatal heart ailment in 1996, but fought back and resumed his duties as prosecutor after a five-month recovery.

        The last year of Mr. Holcomb's life was a stormy one.

        The feisty Democrat was engaged in a sometimes-contentious race for re-election against Republican opponent Robin Piper.

        Mr. Holcomb took heat when it became known that many of his employees contribute about 2 percent of their salaries to his campaign fund. He clashed with several Republican county offi cials.

        But the controversies faded Wednesday as hundreds of people showed up to mourn his loss and to pay tribute to his personal and professional qualities.

        “Every day of his life, Dad taught us how to live,” said his son, John M. Holcomb, in a eulogy during the church service.

        He recounted the many humorous incidents and warm moments he shared with his father.

        Young John was 6 years old when his father took him to a horse race for the first time. His father let him pick a horse in one race, and the horse finished first, giving the Holcombs a $316 payoff.

        When they got home, he told his father he wanted the money.

        “I'll put it in a special bank account,” the elder Mr. Holcomb said.

        “I've never located that bank account,” John M. Holcomb said, laughing.

        Then he turned serious. “But through the years, my dad repaid me, my mother, my brothers and my sister many times over. He was a great, good man.”

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