Icons of Oklahoma, General Jerry Holmes and Vince Orza


General Jerry Holmes spoke about foreign policy with Anwar Sadat. Vince Orza won the Oklahoma governor primary in every party. Trish the Dish and I have had great visits with both Fridays.

One of the best things about traveling isn’t just seeing cool things. It’s reconnecting with great people. That was certainly the case on Friday during Fiesta Bowl week.

We had lunch with the general. Holmes. We had a great visit and tour with Orza who lives part time in Desert Highlands, the Scottsdale area that includes the famous Jack Nicklaus golf course of the same name.

General Holmes is 86 years old. We got to know him through the OU College of Engineering, where General Holmes taught for 20 years. He and his late wife, Nina, have become very close to Dish. Just great, smart and humble people. Perhaps the most awesome couple I have ever met.

Nina passed away a few years ago and General Holmes moved to the Phoenix suburbs last January to be closer to her son’s family.

General Holmes grew up in Wewoka and has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in engineering, both from the OU. He graduated from National War College in 1976, where he was a classmate of Colin Powell, who became a longtime friend.

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General Holmes has a million stories, including personal conversations with Menachem Begin and Sadat, who, as Prime Minister of Israel and President of Egypt, respectively, signed the historic Camp David Accords in 1978. “Sadat was a man of peace,” said the general said of the later assassinated Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

The world needs more men like Anwar Sadats. He also needs more men like General Holmes.

General Holmes’ honors and lodgings are too numerous to list. It’s an Oklahoma treasure.

We were joined for lunch by the Johnston family, big fans of OSU in Chickasha, where Darrel Johnston and his son, Cameron, have an accounting firm. Cameron’s wife, Stephanie, worked in OU engineering with the Dish and also knew General Holmes well.

We had dinner with the Johnston’s in Boise the day before the OSU-Boise State game, and it was great to catch up with them as well. When we were together in Idaho, no one thought there would be a date at the Fiesta Bowl. As Cameron Johnston said, a lot of OSU fans would have been happy to have a bowl game at this point.

After lunch, the Dish and I headed to Desert Highlands. Vince and Patti Orza had invited us.

Most Oklahoma people have followed Vince Orza for decades. He was on local television for years, returning to Channel 4’s iconic Dannysday show. Orza pioneered commercial reporting on Channel 5, became a news anchor, and eventually became a commercial reporter for ABC News. It also branched out into the restaurant business, with its Garfield’s and Eateries Inc. becoming multi-state companies.

Orza has turned to politics twice. In 1990, Orza won the Republican primary, defeating Bill Price and one named Burns Hargis. But in the second round, Price edged out Orza, before Democrat David Walters won the general election. In 2002, Democrats recruited Orza to run, and he won the primary again. But in the second round, Brad Henry Orza. Henry ultimately upset Steve Largent in the general election.

The Orzas fell in love with the Valley of the Sun and 18 years ago bought a second home in the Desert Highlands neighborhood of North Scottsdale.

Desert Highlands is the Nicklaus-designed course that was the site of the first two Skins Games, 1983 and 1984. The Skins Game was a made-for-television event involving Nicklaus, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson. The Skins Game has been a huge marketing tool for the booming Desert Highlands neighborhood, located at the base of Pinnacle Peak, one of the iconic mountains of the Grand Phoenix.

Orza invited me to play golf, but I didn’t have time for 18 holes and I didn’t have the game to step on a Jack Nicklaus tee. Instead, I settled in for a tour of the course.

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In this 2001 file photo, John Lawrence, Christine Lawrence, Donna Shirley, Nina Holmes and retired Major General Jerry Holmes are remembered.

Like everywhere in Scottsdale, the homes of the Desert Highlands reflect the desert motif. The Orzas have a lovely house and they gave us a tour of the course, which is beautiful, with its raised tee shirts and native outlines.

There are few concrete cart tracks – Nicklaus was not a fan – and hardly any rough ones. If you are not on the fairway you are in native terrain which is usually a problem.

Homeownership comes with automatic Desert Highlands membership, and there is no other way to become a member. The valley is known for its incredible golf, and Desert Highlands certainly sits at or near the top of this status.

Then we returned to the Camelback Inn, listening to Alabama-Cincinnati on the way. I still had work to do and we weren’t too hungry – our lunch at Rita’s Cantina at the Camelback Inn was quite filling; I ate shrimp enchiladas – and later we went to the media reception room to hang out with the Oklahoma press and watch the second half of the Georgia-Michigan debacle. We were treated to a virtual exhibition of Tulsa World photographer Ian Maule, who is literally the funniest person I know and a real stand-up comedian. But Maule doesn’t need to do a routine to keep you from stitches. I bend over laughing every two minutes, just in a normal conversation with him.

It was a fun way to end a wonderful Friday, which included two amazing Oklahomans. A four-star general and an amateur politician who won the primaries for governor in each party.

Berry Tramel: You can reach Berry at 405-760-8080 or [email protected] It can be heard Monday through Friday, 4:40 p.m. to 5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of fellow Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

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