Rebecca Barbara (Wollison) Holmes, who engineered a successful campaign to keep the nonprofit Mass Appeal in its Wellfleet home, died on Nov. 5, 2022, at Care Dimension Hospice House in Lincoln. She was 80. According to a source at Mass Appeal, the cause was pancreatic cancer.
A daughter of the late William and Beatrice (Lieberman) Wollison, Rebecca was born on March 15, 1942 in New Bedford.
“Rebecca was always there to take care of her baby brother,” said her younger brother, Jim Wollison. “When I was in kindergarten, there was a dance in our class. A teacher told me I had to dance with a little girl. I refused, and they brought in Rebecca, who said, ‘Jimmy doesn’t have to dance with anyone.’ That got us both sent home. That was the first and only time Rebecca got into trouble.”
At New Bedford High School, Rebecca was a member of the Honor Society and active in many clubs, but she still found time to teach Jim how to jitterbug. She played in the family card games, especially bridge, and joined in the family’s nightly Jeopardy watching, a tradition she handed down to the next generation. She was also an enthusiastic participant in dinner table conversations about history and current events.
As a teenager, she spent part of each summer at Camp Marven in Wellfleet, where she met Michael J. Holmes. The couple married in their early 20s.
After graduation from New Bedford High School, Rebecca earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Simmons College. After her marriage, she taught elementary school in Scarsdale, N.Y.
The couple returned to New Bedford, where Rebecca worked at the New Bedford Whaling Museum and later as an executive assistant at Karten’s Jewelers before finding her true calling as the executive director of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in New Bedford and later of Temple Emunah in Lexington.
Rebecca was “smart, funny, warm, and capable,” Jim said, “with a strong attachment to Judaism.” After she retired, her involvement in Jewish community affairs continued. She became a member of Am Ha Yam, a Jewish lay fellowship group founded in a Wellfleet living room in 1987 and currently housed at the Federated Church in Orleans. She published their newsletter and launched a women’s Torah study group that still meets.
Retirement allowed Rebecca and Michael to begin playing duplicate bridge again. They played in tournaments and clubs on the Cape and Boston, achieving Life Master status.
After Michael died, Rebecca returned to the nonprofit sector in Wellfleet to lead Mass Appeal, the free clothing exchange. “Mass Appeal had been in a transition and was looking for a new executive director,” said the organization’s Jessica Greenberg, “and Rebecca answered the call and came out of retirement to come to our aid.”
Mass Appeal had been given an eviction notice by its landlord. Rebecca launched a successful campaign to keep it in its current location on the corner of Cove Road and Route 6. It is still there today.
Rebecca had planned to move to a senior living community, Golda Meir House in Auburndale, but that never came to pass, said Greenberg. “She worked until the very end,” she added. “She gave. She just gave.”
She is survived by two children, Seth Holmes and wife Amanda of Burlington and Stacy Fournier and husband Marc of Dartmouth; a brother, James Wollison, and his companion, Mary Ryan, of Florida; three grandchildren, Aileen, Michael, and Gerard Holmes; and a nephew, Will Wollison, his wife, Jessica, and their son, Jude.
Rebecca was predeceased by her husband, Michael J. Holmes.
Her funeral was held on Nov. 9 at the Tifereth Israel Congregation in New Bedford. Burial was in Plainville Cemetery, New Bedford.
Contributions in Rebecca’s memory may be made to Mass Appeal Wellfleet (ccmassappeal.org/supportus), Music Camps North (musiccampsnorth.com/), Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection Research (pancan.org), and Am Ha Yam Cape Cod (ahycc.org/donate).