Mamie Estelle Streeter Holmes, who lived to be 104, did not have a secret to a long life, her family said. Her only advice to her daughters was, “Do it God’s way.”
And she did, through charitable acts and work at a hospital and at her church, family members said.
Holmes died in her sleep of cardiopulmonary arrest Feb. 22 at home in Bay Shore.
She gave in formal ways, from founding a scholarship fund for college students to launching a program to honor seniors in her church.
But Holmes's private acts spoke volumes, even if few knew about them.
She secretly taught a man from her church to read, said Mary Reid, one of Holmes's three daughters. The family learned about the lessons only four decades later, after Holmes died.
“My mother was a leader,” Reid said.
Holmes discreetly set aside money for a neighbor for every day she helped Holmes with housework and errands. Holmes ultimately saved $14,000 and hired a contractor to fix up the neighbor’s house when it started to fall into disrepair while the neighbor was in a nursing home, said daughter Daphine Somerville.
When Holmes was no longer able to do charitable work, she sent her daughters in her place to deliver food to the homebound, daughter Shelia Land-Stewart said.
Holmes was born in August 1914 in Clinton, North Carolina, to Will and Mary Nora Beaman Streeter. She attended a two-room schoolhouse and graduated later from Sampson County Training School.
At 21, she married George Henry Holmes. Along with Land-Stewart, Reid and Somerville, the couple also had a son, George. They were divorced later.
When the marriage became troubled, Holmes left North Carolina in 1947 and brought her children to Bay Shore, where she had an uncle, her family said.
“She was a brave woman,” Reid said. “My mom went against the norms.”
Holmes began working at the now-closed Pilgrim State Psychiatric Center as a therapy aide, a job she held until she retired in 1975.
She was active in the Bay Shore Mothers' Club, the Order of the Eastern Star and the Suffolk Section of the National Council of Negro Women. She helped found the Bay Shore Head Start program and the Islip Branch of the NAACP, her family said. She was involved in the fight for civil rights, especially in area schools and in an electrical union.
At First Baptist Church in Bay Shore, she served as a clerk and as chair of the deaconess board. She founded the E.L. Haywood Scholarship Fund for college students and the Jewels’ Day Celebration honoring members over age 70. Holmes was awarded the title of Deaconess Emerita in 2017.
Holmes loved to travel and did missionary work everywhere she went, her family said.
When glaucoma and the loss of optic nerves caused Holmes to go blind in the 1980s, she learned to read Braille, her family said. She stayed sharp and her other senses became heightened, prompting her grandchildren to question whether she was really blind, her family said.
Holmes’ funeral was held Feb. 27 at the Bay Shore church. She was buried in the Third Avenue section — coincidentally named for the street she lived on for 65 years — at Oakwood Cemetery in Bay Shore.
She is survived by Land-Stewart, 77, of Brentwood; Reid, 81, of Bay Shore; Somerville, 79, of Dix Hills; daughter-in-law Leila Holmes, of Brentwood; son-in-law Clarence Stewart, of Brentwood; nine grandchildren; 16 great-grandchildren; and seven great-great-grandchildren.
She was predeceased by her son, George Holmes, and by great-grandchild Lizette Land.