Mary Sherwood Holt

Mary Sherwood Holt, born April 9, 1927, passed away in her home on September 27, 2021. She was a native of Newport News and lived a life of value, full of purpose, service, and commitment.

Mary Sherwood was a visionary community leader on the Peninsula, the second woman elected to Newport News City Council, the co-founder of the Virginia Living Museum, a strong advocate for the performing arts, an excellent writer, and a world traveler.

Mary Sherwood was a lifelong learner and loved both arts and sciences.  In college at Mount Holyoke she was torn between literacy or becoming a chemist, eventually majoring in German in the hopes of joining the diplomatic corps. She passed the American Foreign Service exam and entered school in Washington DC. However, she changed course and married M. Quincy Holt, another Newport News native, in 1951, and moved back to NN. She continued her love of learning until her last days participating in classes through the Lifelong Learning Society.

Mary Sherwood had a thirst for travel. After WWII ended, she and her brother Graham traveled to Europe, including Paris. It took over 40 years for her to return to Paris, this time with her husband, Quincy. Besides their honeymoon in Cuba, it was their first international trip together. Excited to research the history before her adventures, she became an avid traveler visiting such places as Egypt, China, Burma, Thailand, Singapore, Russia, Greece, and Italy—even going on a safari in Africa and sailing across the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary. Her final around-the-world adventure ended prematurely in Santa Marta, Colombia where she spent an eventful 2 months.

Mary Sherwood always loved the beach, beginning as a child going to Atlantic Beach with her grandparents, and she never tired of a good ocean swim. That tradition continued when she was a young mother, at times spontaneously driving with all children to VA Beach for a day. Later in life, yearly summer beach vacations to Sandbridge always included steamed blue crabs and cold beers. In fact, her last trip was this past summer in July 2021, where she enjoyed picking her last crab surrounded by family.

Mary Sherwood’s began volunteering in High School. In 1949, Mary Sherwood joined the Junior League and began the Volunteer Service Bureau. During her years of involvement with the Junior League, she served as chairperson of many committees and in 1964 was elected President. Whatever she became involved in, she quickly rose to a leadership position!

Mary was quick to state she was never bored. She was a serious student of writing and had a love of gardening. Her early community service offered diverse writing opportunities that included edited  “The Civil War – A Pictorial Guide to the Va Peninsula” and authored a children’s play, “Peter Pumpkin Eater” in which she even played the role of Simple Simon.

One of Mary Sherwood’s serious hobbies was gardening; she joined the Huntington Garden Club, where she again rose to a leadership role and served a term as President. Mary Sherwood attributed her gardening interest to her beloved grandfather, John W. Sherwood, who created Sherwood Gardens in Baltimore.

Mary Sherwood Holt was a natural leader and early feminist. She identified one of her proudest accomplishments as being a woman in leadership and paving the road for future women in leadership roles. Mary Sherwood was an advocate for women’s rights and was active in the Equal Rights Movement, even traveling with daughter Frankie to march in Washington, DC. This was often fertile ground for Quincy’s quick wit.  She also was a member of the Democratic Party and was the first woman to chair the Democratic Committee in Newport News.

Mary became a vibrant leader in city, state, and national government and dedicated her time to the healthy development of Newport News. In 1972 she was elected to Newport News City Council and went on to serve 3 terms. She served as chairperson of the Centennial Commission and the Peninsula Planning District Commission.  She also served on the Board of Director for the Peninsula Economic Development Council, helped create the NN Youth Services Commission, and was a member and past President of Alternatives (Drug Prevention Program).

Mary’s interests included transportation, conservation, beautification of her city, and the Arts development. She became a leader in transportation, where she served on Regional, State, and National Boards. She twice chaired the Peninsula Transportation District Commission. In1985 was appointed to The Virginia Commission for Local Government, again twice chaired, and was also an active member of the National League of Cities.

As part of her interests in the conservation and beautification of her city, Mary successfully lobbied for green spaces in Newport News. She was incredibly proud of her successful lobbying to keep trees along Jefferson Ave. She was known to have threatened to tie herself to the trees to block them from getting cut down! Mary Sherwood co-founded The Virginia Living Museum and served as its board president beginning in 1970 and remained on the board of advisors until her death. In 2011 the museum honored Mary and her late husband, Quincy, with the dedication of the Holt Native Plant Conservatory.

A passionate and lifelong advocate of the arts, Mary Sherwood, believed the cultural arts made the Peninsula community more robust, more vibrant.  She served on many local boards and advisory councils and provided transformative support to arts organizations, including Christopher Newport University’s Ferguson Center for the Arts, Theatre Guild, and the Mary M. Torggler Fine Arts Center; the Peninsula Arts Center; Virginia Living Museum and the Mariner’s Museum. She maintained an active role until, at the age of 90, when she announced she would resign from all board positions. It surprised no one that she had a difficult time letting go.

Mary was a current member of Hidenwood Presbyterian Church and past member and Session member of First Presbyterian Church, NN. She also was a former moderator in the Presbytery of Eastern Va.

She was preceded in death by her parents, A. Albert Giese and Elizabeth Sherwood Giese, her beloved husband of almost 60 years, M. Quincy Holt, and her nephew, Stephen Giese.  She is survived by their five children: three daughters, Elizabeth Sherwood Holt (Calvin T. Lucy, III), Maria G. Holt, and Frankie Holt (Michael Higgins); two sons, Saxon W. Holt (Mary McChesney Holt) and Michael G. Holt (Jill C. Holt); eight grandchildren, Annie, Evie, Micajah, Simon, Graham, Sherwood, Alex and Quincy; brother, Graham Sherwood; three nephews and one niece Joshua, Ben, Daniel, and Maria.

She adored her family and was a devoted wife, mother, and grandmother. Her enthusiasm, creativity, and zest for life made a positive difference in the lives of many.

A celebration of life will be held at Warwick Forest at later date.

In lieu of flowers, please give a Donation to The Virginia Living Museum, 524 J Clyde Morris Blvd, Newport News, VA 23601 (

Arrangements are under the care of Peninsula Funeral Home, 11144 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, VA 23601.

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