Former Biloxi mayor dies at 79

Published 12:22 am Wednesday, June 6, 2018

BILOXI (AP) — The City of Biloxi’s longest serving mayor, A.J. Holloway, has died.

According to the city’s website and Facebook page, Holloway died early Tuesday. He was 79.

First elected mayor in 1993, Holloway retired due to health concerns in 2015, ending a 22-year career. He also served on the City Council.

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Holloway was the brother of Natchez resident and former Natchez City Clerk Donnie Holloway.

A.J. Holloway, a Republican, is credited with leading Biloxi through its greatest period of growth, thanks to his management of millions of dollars in revenue generated by Biloxi’s casinos. He became mayor a year after casino gambling was legalized in Mississippi. The industry re-energized the local economy, creating 15,000 jobs, generating $6 billion in development, boosting the number of annual visitors to the community from a million a year to between eight and 10 million a year.

During his tenure, Holloway tripled the size of the Biloxi police and fire departments, oversaw the construction of an 80-acre sports complex that would later bear his name and abolished fees for youth sports leagues. In addition, four new public schools were built, new roads were constructed and decades-old ones were rebuilt, a $35 million affordable housing initiative was undertaken in east Biloxi and residents saw their property tax rate drop by 50 percent.

“He was a force,” Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich said. “He was always in it, and that smile was infectious.”

As Biloxi entered the 21st Century, the city was enjoying the most prosperous time in its 300-year history until Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster to ever strike the United States, decimated the city and surrounding communities.

“It was our tsunami,” Holloway said in a quote that was republished around the world.

Katrina claimed 6,000 of 25,000 homes and businesses in Biloxi, and more than 15,000 people were left without jobs in the casino industry alone.

The mayor’s memory of the city’s economic challenges before casino gambling prompted him two months before the storm to invest $92,000 in a business-interruption insurance policy that captured $10 million in revenue that would have been lost to the storm. He marshaled city departments, used state and federal aid and went about the business of clearing the city of debris in the days after the storm and set about a long-term recovery program.

The challenges of a post-Katrina Biloxi may define Holloway’s public service career, which began with the Biloxi Public Schools, where he served as business manager for six years. He also served at the Mississippi Tax Commission for 12 years and was later elected to the Biloxi City Council serving one term before being elected mayor.

Holloway was a high school football hero, a fierce competitor on the field, and was later said to have thrown a punch that led to the longtime cancellation of the Biloxi-Gulfport football rivalry.

“He was a legend,” Gilich said. “One of my first memories was playing football with his brother Donnie. I remember like it was yesterday. I thought ‘I’m playing football with A.J. Holloway’s brother. Then there was that ballgame with Gulfport. The whole town was like ‘All the Way Holloway.’

“He was a legend in so many ways.”

After high school, Holloway went to the University of Mississippi, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in education. At the same time, he played in two Sugar Bowls and a Cotton Bowl while on the 1960 Rebels national championship football team.

Holloway is survived by his wife Macklyn, their two children and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.