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Celebrating the life, love, and legacy of Holli Deal Saxon

Faced with the choice of surrendering to grief or celebrating the memories, Bobby NeSmith shares a touching tribute to his late sister, Statesboro's own storyteller.

People often take moments for granted because we simply assume there are more where those came from. Many times, it takes the pain of sudden loss and the sting of regret to make us realize just how precious those moments were. Time marches on, in spite of that pain, and we are left with two options – surrender to grief or celebrate the memories. This column is reflective of my choice to celebrate the life, love, and legacy of my sister Holli Deal Saxon.

Growing up, I essentially had the best of two worlds. While I was the only child living at home, I had two older siblings who actively participated in my spoiling. My late brother Wesley was 16 when I was born, and Holli was 19. Throughout the years, my relationship with my siblings encountered obstacles that only a few would understand. Our age difference played a huge part in that, as they were starting their adult lives while I was still learning to crawl. For the better part of four decades, I never once questioned their love, and they rarely missed an opportunity to show it. 

Wesley & Holli

On the afternoon of Friday, September 29, my world stopped spinning for a moment when I received the news that Holli had passed away in the wee hours of that morning. Aunt Jean’s voice faded to a distant echo as my mind scrambled to process what she was telling me. I responded, “No,” as if my disagreement would negate her words. It didn’t make sense – Holli was getting better and was already making plans for her impending discharge from Heritage Inn. I had spoken to her only a few days prior, and I commented on her improved speech and mobility. As logic took over and I checked the notifications on my phone, I had no option but to accept what they confirmed: My sister was gone.

On the drive home from work, my mind played a seemingly endless slideshow of grainy photographs. Some of them featured Holli on horseback leading me and my stubborn Shetland pony, Josh, on trail rides through rural Bulloch County. Others depicted me sitting in the newsroom of the Statesboro Herald, Holli typing away furiously on her keyboard, passion flowing like sparks from her fingertips. I’ve never met someone as passionate about fair and unbiased journalism as my sister, and her talent inspires me to this day. 

At the Georgia Press Association Awards

Holli was, at her core, an avid storyteller. She loved to share the many highlights of her quarter-century career as a reporter. Whether she was showing off her photograph with Cowboy Troy, recounting her interviews with local philanthropists and community heroes, or reminiscing on her upbringing as a farmer’s daughter, Holli had a way with words that placed you front-and-center in her world and allowed you to experience her point-of-view with precision and clarity. Even while riddled with a textbook’s worth of medical ailments, including failing eyesight, she managed to continue penning stories until it became impossible to do so. Her work left an indelible mark on her community and solidified her legacy for a lifetime to come.

Holli with Cowboy Troy

Now, if you know me, you also know that Holli and I had our fair share of disagreements. We seldom managed to agree on hot button issues like politics and religion. Holli was unapologetically conservative and I am a bleeding-heart liberal. She was a strong, vocal Christian and I have a more eclectic worldview. These differences led to some pretty heated discussions, especially during election years. Our shared stubbornness, which we most definitely got from our mother, led to many late night conversations after which we would simply agree to disagree. 

In the wake of her most recent medical event, Holli gleaned immense joy from telling her story of resilience and sharing how her struggles helped to strengthen her faith in God. She often spoke of an other-worldly experience she had when her heart stopped beating momentarily and required emergent resuscitation. That moment changed her life–for the better, it seems–and she began to focus less on our differences and showed a genuine interest in learning “my side of the story”. She sought to know me better, despite our differences, and genuinely showed an interest in bridging the gap that grew between us in recent years.


I will never forget our last phone call. I was driving home from work late at night when my ringtone pierced the typical silence of my short commute. “I have some exciting news,” Holli said, an audible smile on her face. She went on to tell me about a new physical therapist who sounded more like a drill sergeant than a medical practitioner. He was pushing her beyond her perceived limitations and giving her hope of a full recovery. We made tentative plans for the holiday season, talked about a dozen different topics, and soon I realized I’d been sitting outside my house for nearly two hours talking on the phone. We said our goodbyes, and that was it. I never imagined it would be the last time I would hear her voice.

My hope in sharing this tribute is not only to pay homage to an inspirational and genuine person, but to begin the process of healing for myself and others who will miss Holli dearly. Grief is persistent, and it’s unfazed by time or distance. The tears I’ve wiped away while writing this will undoubtedly become less frequent, and eventually I’ll no longer feel the urge to pick up the phone and call her when I’m having a bad day. Until then, may her memory live on through her written words and the legacy she leaves behind for her family, her friends, and her beloved community.

See you later, sis. I love you more.

Holli Deal Saxon, 1967-2023