Former Virginia First Lady Jinks Holton: Still helping neighbors, building community
, 2015

Former Virginia First Lady Jinks Holton:
Still helping neighbors, building community

by Larry Mazzeno

Forty years ago Jinks Holton and her husband, Gov. Linwood Holton, left the executive mansion in Richmond. Not long afterwards, the former Virginia First Lady discovered an activity that would become a lifelong passion: building houses for Habitat for Humanity.

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From left are Virginia Secretary of Education and former Virginia First Lady Anne Holton and former Virginia First Lady Jinks Holton.

“I first got involved in Habitat when Lin and I were in Washington,” Holton explains. She and three friends joined a large group of volunteer builders that included former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, to construct homes around the world.

“We built 10 houses in one week on an Indian reservation in Utah. In Romania we constructed 12 homes,” said Holton. “The locals were suspicious of us, because they had no idea about Habitat’s activities. We ended up organizing tours for them to look at our work. Town officials were so impressed that they ended up designating a site where six more Habitat homes could be built.”

One of her more interesting trips was to South Africa, where her group built 50 houses on each side of a hill. These small, primitive homes they built made a real difference to locals in need of decent living accommodations.

“The South Africans were eager to help because they loved using the tools we brought with us. Many wanted to take the tools home overnight, so we had to be certain, for safety reasons, that all equipment remained on site,” she said.

The trip to South Africa included a bonus for Holton. “At the time we were building, one of President Carter’s sons was working in the country on another project. He came over and gave us lessons in the local language,” said Holton.

When not traveling the world for Habitat, she spent considerable time with her husband boating on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Even a world traveler has to have a place to call home, however, and the Holtons decided 11 years ago that being close to their boat was a good reason to relocate permanently to the Northern Neck.

“Our boat was docked in the Middle Peninsula. When we began looking for a home, though, we realized that many of our friends lived in the Northern Neck, so we found a place just outside of Kilmarnock,” she said.

Not long after moving, Holton was swinging a hammer for Habitat again, this time on behalf of the Lancaster/Northumberland Habitat for Humanity (LNHFH). For the past several years she has participated in Women Build, an annual event held on Mother’s Day weekend that urges women to come out and take part in construction activities.

In 2012, the Holtons moved to Rappahannock Westminster-Canterbury (RW-C).

“I think we always knew that at some point we would want to live somewhere that would not require us to do all the maintenance and upkeep on our house. We heard from so many people about what a great time they were having at RW-C. This seemed like the perfect place for us,” said Holton.

“Lin insists we moved because I did not want to have to plan for meals,” she says.

The Holtons donated their large boat to the Deltaville Maritime Museum, which sold it and used the proceeds to construct a replica of a shallop, the boat used by Capt. John Smith to explore the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries in 1608.

“We still have a fishing boat that lets us get out on the water whenever we want,” said Holton.

At RW-C she and the former governor “take advantage of every activity” offered by the continuing care community, said Holton. They also are regulars at the Northern Neck Family YMCA, where she is an avid pickleball player.

“I’ve even gotten my daughter, Tayloe, involved. She seems to be a natural at it,” said Holton.

She also is active at Grace Episcopal Church in Kilmarnock and serves on the advisory boards for Christ Church and LNHFH.

She always makes time to help out when Habitat needs a hand on the job site, added Holton.

“I believe everyone should have a home so they can enjoy the benefits and experience the responsibilities that come with home ownership. What makes Habitat special is that these new owners aren’t getting something for free,” she said. “They have to put in hours volunteering, including working on their own homes, and they have to pay a mortgage. But Habitat provides them an advisor to assist them in learning about financial management. It’s a great way to give a deserving neighbor a hand up.

“I’m sure I’ll be on site at the next Women Build,” continued Holton. She plans to get her daughter Anne Holton, another former Virginia First Lady and Virginia Secretary of Education, to join her as she has in past years.

“She’s gotten pretty good at building, too,” said Holton, with the look that only a mother can express about a child of many accomplishments.

Larry Mazzeno of Weems is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in many publications throughout the region.

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