Mary Jo Holmes

Date of Birth

October 7, 1949

Date of Death

July 23, 2023

City of Death

Santa Barbara

The stars got a little brighter when Mary passed peacefully on July 23, 2023, off to her next adventure after a long illness and extended stay with the lovely staff at Serenity House in Santa Barbara.

Mary Popa was born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin, and graduated from St. Catherine’s High School, where she played guard on the basketball team. A fateful meeting at a local swimming pool introduced her to Gary Holmes, who was then attending college in Michigan and would go on to be her loving husband for more than 55 years. When Gary’s job presented a move west, Mary drove cross country with their two-year-old daughter Hollie and the family cat Princess, caravanning with Gary and their 4-year-old son Allen to the sunny beach enclave of Santa Barbara—about 2,200 miles west and 30 degrees warmer.

They welcomed two more daughters, Jenn and Amy, in Santa Barbara and Mary was active in the kids’ many (many) activities and school functions before going back to work when the older two went off to college. She found a knack for bookkeeping and worked in the medical and retail fields at various businesses in Santa Barbara and Goleta over the years.

However, Mary was so much more than a list of her milestones. She had a passion for fashion. She believed a good outfit and the right accessories could give you the confidence to tackle most obstacles, and was always an advocate for loving the skin you’re in. She was an avid reader and passed on that habit to her kids. She loved the beach and would never say no to a sailing invitation or a well-made mojito. She and Gary attended many Jimmy Buffett concerts, though she also enjoyed jazz and country, and had an adorable habit of always singing a half-second behind the song. She supported her Green Bay Packers and had many fun times watching them at bars with her kids since the West Coast rarely shows their games on broadcast TV. And perhaps most of all, Mary was an incredible listener, which made her a great friend and an awesome mom—to many more than just her biological kids.

There is one particularly good piece of advice she shared when people felt scared to make a choice or a change, uncertain about what to do next in their lives: “Right now, you’re standing in the middle of a fog bank, and you can’t see anything around you. Your only way out is to take a step—in any direction. You don’t know it’ll be right, but it will allow you to create a path and take more steps.” Indeed, Mary had a full, rich life, but her illness took her sooner than she had anticipated. She still had things she wanted to do, and places she wanted to experience. So, in her honor, get out there. Take that step.

Mary is joining her dear mother Josephine and brother Tom, who definitely had a cold Pabst ready and waiting for her. She is survived by her husband Gary, son Allen (Amy), daughters Hollie (Ken), Jenn (Dan), and Amy, and grandchildren Kaellyn, Kelsey, and Gavin. We will be holding a party in her honor on October 8, the day after her birthday, at the Canary Hotel rooftop in downtown Santa Barbara. To get more info and rsvp, email: In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Santa Barbara Zoo or the Foodbank of Santa Barbara.


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