If you are an animal in distress, or Willie Nelson, or a friend of Fran Holmbraker, you lost a profoundly loyal and steadfast champion when she died on Apr. 6, 2021, while tending to her beloved gardens.
Born Lillie Frances Ritchie on Feb. 13, 1933, to Phillip and Pauline, she was known as Frances or Fran to her family, friends and the animals she loved. (Regrettably, acquaintanceship with Willie was still an unfulfilled goal when she passed.)
Fran graduated from Leesburg High School before earning a B.S. in Nursing from the University of Virginia in 1953. (Always growing and learning, she proudly capped nearly two decades of part-time study in 1993 with her second degree, a B.A. in English from Hood College.)
An early highlight in her young adulthood was traveling across Europe in a rented car with two college girlfriends, and she proudly noted how daring that was considered at the time.
Up for more adventure, she moved to New York City. She rose through the nursing ranks at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center before marrying Bernard W. Holmbraker in 1961. His job as a fast-advancing sales manager in IBM ensured that Fran remained on the go, landing in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New York’s Finger Lakes region within 10 years. She would add Colorado and New Hampshire to that list before settling in her native Virginia in 1978.
Through the many waypoints, they pursued a shared collector’s interest in antique furniture, paintings and Stafford- shire. Weekends and family trips were designed around visits to auctions and antique shops, and stacks of Antiques magazine and related periodicals took pride of place on the various 19th-century English end tables in her house. Fran be- came a subject matter expert and in recent years, through self-study, tackled amateur restoration as well.
She saw her passions converge when appointed chairman of the Waterford Fair in 1995. For 19 years, she delighted in working with some of her closest friends to promote heritage and history. She’s remembered for having an intrinsic and instinctive knowledge of true craftsman- ship of the period and earned high regard for taking exceptional care of craftspeople, fairgoers and volunteers alike. It was a labor of love that did not go unnoticed – during her tenure the Fair was awarded Best Loudoun Tourism Event of the Year four times and she individually received the 2009 Judy Patterson Tourism Award, the Loudoun Convention & Visitors’ Association’s highest honor.
Her ready compassion was not reserved only for her human friends. Her children can recall their parents coming home more than once with dogs abandoned at the roadside, and over the years she also offered refuge to domesticated geese, a neglected pony and even a rescue burro from Death Valley.
Fran spent a late retirement deepening her bond with her brother and enjoying English detective dramas, outlaw country music and her cherished friendships. She was also a hearty consumer of current events and ever-willing discusser social and political issues, which made her a favorite conversation partner of her grandson.
Preceded in death by her brother Robert Ritchie, Fran leaves her three children, Bernie Holmbraker (Ria), Susie Holmbraker (John) and Amy Grace Holmbraker, her grandson Aidan and step-grandchildren Stacy, Danny, Michael, Brittni and Johnny.
The funeral service will be held Saturday at Hillsboro Cemetery. Arrangements by Hall Funeral Home.
Memorial donations may be made to the French Bulldog Rescue Network.