HAVE YOU ever seen Edwin Holcombe walk a rabbit on a leash in downtown Shelbyville? You might think you’ve entered an episode of the Twilight Zone or expect to see Alice in Wonderland next but what you’re actually experiencing is one of Mr. Holcombe’s three lifelong hobbies: raising and training rabbits.
Mr. Holcombe is a retired Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) employee. He moved quite a lot in that career and his prior careers of teaching, a veteran of the United States Air Force, and other entry- level jobs after he graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now known as Auburn University. The TVA transferred him to Shelbyville in 1972 and he has considered Bedford County his home ever since. He and his wife of 61 years, Elaine, have four children. Impressively, Mr. Holcombe can give you the exact number of years, months, and days that he has been married.
Mr. Holcombe has three remarkable hobbies and he continues to actively share his knowledge with others. In addition to his rabbits, he is a beekeeper and he also gives Old Glory speeches to inspire patriotism and acknowledge the meaning behind the flag of the United States of America.
Sometimes he is fortunate to bring all of his hobbies together, as he did this past September during a trip to France. He met French rabbit raisers and beekeepers and shared information about successfully harvesting rabbits and raising queen bees. He also gave the Old Glory speech at an American cemetery.
While they had bees on the farm he grew up on, Mr. Holcombe was first introduced to beekeeping by receiving a hive from his brother as a wedding gift. As he moved around Alabama and Tennessee, that hive moved with him. He knew one hive could produce enough honey to pay for one month’s rent so if a person had 12 hives they could theoretically pay their rent for the entire year. Just before moving to Bedford County he purchased several more hives and had the good fortune to meet a more experienced beekeeper, Leslie Little. After meeting him, Mr. Holcombe became more serious about his beekeeping as the two men worked together over the next 20 years caring for up to 100 colonies of bees. Mr. Holcombe is now considered an expert in his own right, even learning how to do artificial insemination and parasite testing. He opened a bee lab to help fellow beekeepers keep their colonies healthy. Throughout the years Mr. Holcombe has taught beekeeping at MTSU, in several different countries, through local beekeeping clubs, and as a private mentor to fellow beekeepers.
Mr. Holcombe’s rabbit keeping has downsized since his peak in the 1970s and 80s when he had upwards of 300 rabbits for show and meat. Now he keeps a few rabbits to train and for pets. He enjoys the process of working with their personalities and figuring out what the rabbit wants to do. He has a rabbit that joins him on his walk to the post office and will wait in a specific corner while Mr. Holcombe gets his mail.
Perhaps one day soon you will have an opportunity to encounter this lively and interesting gentleman on Shelbyville’s streets. There is a wealth of knowledge and many interesting stories to hear. -GN