Sunday, July 23, 2000

Holcomb was tough, caring

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Butler County Prosecutor John F. Holcomb often used salty language in his private conversations, but he spoke eloquently when addressing juries.

        He was a tough-minded prosecutor who sent men to death row, yet he was a devoted husband and father who delighted in his family and friends.

        Mr. Holcomb, a county prosecutor for 27 years who embodied many contradictory qualities, died Saturday of a heart attack while at River Downs racetrack in Anderson Township.

        The 63-year-old Hamilton resident was the lone Democratic countywide officeholder in Republican-dominated Butler.

        “It's difficult to imagine politics in Butler County absent the influence of John Holcomb,” Butler County Commissioner Mike Fox said Saturday night.

        “For as long as I can remember, John Holcomb has been an institution both politically and in law enforcement.”

        Richard Holzberger, former Butler County sheriff and current Hamilton councilman, said Mr. Holcomb combined compassion with toughness.

        “Under that thick glare,” he said, “he had the biggest, softest heart for those in need. That's why he was such a good prosecutor.”

        Mr. Holcomb suffered a near-fatal heart condition in 1996 and could not work for several months.

        When he returned to work, he used a walking cane embellished with the skin of a rattlesnake.

        “If you see a snake down in the road, or on the side walk, you don't want to go up and kick on him and trample on him, because he might not be dead,” Mr. Holcomb said in an interview published in the Enquirer this year.

        “He might jump up and bite you in the ass.”

        Mr. Holzberger marveled at how gamely Mr. Holcomb fought back from his illness.

        “He was most proud when he showed me for the first time how he could stand up under his own power with his walking stick,” he said.

        Although he was often unsteady on his feet in recent years, the crusty prosecutor cast a commanding presence.

        Mr. Holzberger said Mr. Holcomb was never ambiguous about how he felt about people.

        “He commanded loyalty and he gave loyalty,” he said. “If he liked you, he liked you. If you were his enemy, you were his enemy.

        Janice Morse contributed.


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