WICHITA, Kan. (KSWN) – Wichita’s Doo-Dah Diner is a little quieter these days after the diner’s “grandpa” and Counter Chat author lost his health battle in late February.
“He was a customer who turned into family,” said Doo-Dah Diner co-owner Timirie Shibley.
Shibley describes Richard Holmes as ‘one of a kind’ — a master of mathematics, a bridge-player extraordinaire, and a man with a way with words and people.
“His smile was priceless and it warmed anybody that was lucky enough to receive it,” Shibley said.
Holmes, 89, entered the casual diner in 2012 about three months after Shibley and her husband first opened its doors.
“He rolled up with these big, orange flags on the back of his tricycle and this older gentleman comes wondering into the counter and he came back the next day and the next day,” Shibley said.
Shibley realized Holmes was not any ordinary customer within the first week of meeting him.
“When he came for breakfast and then lunch the same day and then he came for breakfast the next day and then the next day was Wednesday, and he told us ahead of time he would not be joining us on Wednesday mornings for breakfast,” she laughed.
Holmes had a prior bridge club engagement on Wednesday mornings. Other than that, Shibley learned to expect to see him sitting at the diner’s counter nearly every day, sometimes even twice a day.
“He loved us and we loved him,” Shibley said.
Holmes, who never married nor had kids of his own, became grandpa to Shibley’s daughters who also worked at the restaurant.
“He would always come to family functions like he came to our graduation parties, very loving and caring — we really did see him as a grandfather,” said Darrienne Burgess, a diner employee, and Shibley’s family member.
“We just had really authentic conversations with him where he began to feel like family here,” said Abbey Morgan, another member of Shibley’s family who also works at the diner.
Conversations became Holmes’ specialty. He talked to every person who entered the diner’s doors. He asked them questions even if they did not seem interested.
“He was very tenacious in getting you to talk to him. It wasn’t really one that you could just brush off,” laughed Morgan.
“He had met so many amazing people that I asked him to write a book about his experiences at the Doo Dah counter,” Shibley said.
That idea eventually became a blog on the diner’s website titled “Counter Chat.” There, Holmes would detail the interesting people he encountered at the diner like a father with twelve kids and a Broadway star passing through Wichita.
“It didn’t matter what walk of life you come from, what you do for a living, he enjoyed getting to know people, their background, their history, what their future held, what their goals and their plans were,” said Holmes’ niece Trisha Holmes. “I feel like it was his bucket list as he was getting older to get to know as many people as possible and he became very good at it.”
“The true gift he had was he learned to talk to strangers and enjoy that so much and it filled that man’s last eight years of his life with so much joy,” Shibley said.
While Holmes will never sit at the Doo Dah Diner again, his legacy lives on. His image is on the diner’s walls and he even graces the restaurant’s mural. For Shibley, his lesson on love will live on forever.
“His legacy should be to everybody stop and have a conversation, get out of your phones, sit next to a person and make their day,” she said.
Holmes had a rolling gift card account at the diner. He left the remaining balance to his niece, Trisha, who would join him once a week for meals at the diner.