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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Meet Mama T, the heart of SMU’s Umphrey Lee Dining Hall

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Tamerlyn+Holmes%2C+aka+Mama+T%2C++serves+as+a+welcoming+face+in+the+Umphrey+Lee+Dinning+Hall.
Melanie Jackson
Tamerlyn Holmes, aka “Mama T,” serves as a welcoming face in the Umphrey Lee Dinning Hall.

Tamerlyn Holmes, aka Mama T, wakes up at 3 a.m. to prepare for work as the lead cashier of the Umphrey Lee Dining Hall. She arrives on campus two hours before her 6 a.m. shift, to find a good parking space.

The dining hall preps for opening at 7 a.m., and Holmes is ready to greet SMU students with a smile.

“Hi honey, good morning,” Holmes said while swiping a student’s ID so they can get to fluffy waffles, made-to-order omelets and crispy hash browns.

Even after waking up early each morning, Holmes shares laughs and talks with students who rush in for a bite to eat before starting a busy day of classes, exams and meetings.

“Bye Mama T, have a good day,” one student said on their way out of Umphrey Lee Dining Hall.

“Sometimes I don’t want to come to work, sometimes I’ll be in my feelings about my mom, but I have to come to work,” Holmes said. “Then once I get here, [students] make my day.”

Holmes laughs as she swipes in a student. (Melanie Jackson)

Holmes’ life turned upside down in 2023. Her mother, Deborah Holmes, died, and her relationship with her boyfriend of 27 years ended in the same week. Yet, she continues to be the welcoming face that has served the SMU community for almost two decades. Holmes said her faith and SMU students help her stay positive.

The nickname
Holmes has been at SMU for 17 years, first working at Mac’s Place before moving to the Umphrey Lee Dining Hall a year later. After starting as a prep cook, she’s rotated through all of the food stations. Her favorite position in the kitchen is the omelet station.

“I always used to keep the omelet station crunk up,” Holmes said. “They’d love it when I would flip the omelet up and make it fall back in the pan.”

During her time at the omelet station was when her beloved nickname, Mama T, was born.

Thomas King gave her the name in 2012 when he met her as an SMU freshman. King instantly took a liking to her. He wrote to The Dallas Morning News about her presence on campus and her omelets, which led to a story about the pair. Her nickname was initially spelled “Momma T” in the article, but Holmes prefers Mama T.

“My boss was like, ‘I think I’m going to change your name tag,’” Holmes said. “The student was right there, he was like ‘Yes! Change that nametag to Mama T because she is my mom away from home.’

Painful loss
Although Holmes serves as a motherly figure to many on campus, she spent this past Mother’s Day without hers. Holmes lost her mother suddenly last May.

A billboard next to I-30 in Dallas honors Deborah Holmes, the mother of beloved Umphrey Lee employee, Tamerlyn Hall, affectionately known as “Mama T”. (Tamerlyn Holmes)

“My mom was the glue to the family,” Holmes said. “Now we don’t have that, we just seem so lost, especially me.”

This Mother’s day not only marked the first one Holmes celebrated without her mother, but it was also the exact anniversary of her mom’s death.

Their close bond left her feeling despair while trying to resume her normal life.

“When my mom first passed, I felt like I didn’t want to be here anymore,” Holmes said as tears fell down her cheek. “I had to take a little counseling and stuff like that. I miss my mom so much every single day. Every single day.”

Holmes pulls out her phone and smiles as she goes through old photos of her mother. One of them is a billboard her family rented next to I-30 in February to celebrate their mother’s birthday. “Happy birthday to one of the best. Deborah, rest in peace,” it read.

“It’s hard when everything you had is just gone,” Holmes said. “We’re still paying off her tombstone.”

Students Step In

“Mama T is such a bright light on campus,” Holder said. “She’s so intentional and kind, she not only does that for me but for everyone around her.”

— Gracie Holder


Two days after her mother died Holmes and her boyfriend of 27 years broke up. Two of the most important people in her life were gone within a week, she said. He was the main provider for rent and household expenses for their three-bedroom home. She now covers these costs alone.

“I’m doing the best that I can,” Holmes said. “I might not be able to pay it all at once, but I’ll pay the majority, and the next time I get paid, I’ll pay the rest.”

Service workers in the dining halls and other campus restaurants don’t work during campus breaks, so Holmes finds ways to supplement her income, especially during the long summer months.

“I try to cook here, cook there,” Holmes said.

Gracie Holder, an SMU junior, met Holmes during her freshman year, because she frequently ate meals at Umphrey Lee. Like other students, she was immediately drawn to Holmes’ kindness, and the two have grown close through conversations at the register over the years.

“Mama T is such a bright light on campus,” Holder said. “She’s so intentional and kind, she not only does that for me but for everyone around her.”

In August, Holder started a GoFundMe to help with Holmes’ expenses.

“I felt awful for Mama T and her loss, but also the loss that she suffered during the summer financially, of not knowing when she was gonna eat, or turning off her phone because she couldn’t pay the phone bill,” Holder said.

Holder said the GoFundMe was also a way for the SMU community to support Holmes in her time of need. Over $500 was raised to cover her monthly expenses with extra money to spare.

“I thought starting a GoFundMe would be a great representation to show everyone rallying around her and just showing what a true SMU campus gem she is,” Holder said. “We raised a lot of money in a short amount of time just to honestly, allow her to have a break, and just ensure that people appreciate her legacy.”

Even when Holmes has hard times, she still supports students like Holder when they go through hard times, as well.

“I struggle with anxiety, and there’s been times where Mama T has really made my day,” Holder said. “She’s really changed my perspective in some dark times.”

Holmes’ service goes deeper than just working in the dining hall, Holder said.

“I think it’s bigger than just someone that’s sweet, she’s truly changing lives amidst everything she does,” Holder said. “She goes beyond just working in the cafeteria, we have to honor and respect the people that turn the lights on every day.”

SMU Police Sgt. Roland Davis has personally seen Mama T’s impact on the community for the last 10 years he’s patrolled campus.

“I don’t think she’s realized the joy that she gives people,” Davis said. “They may never come and tell her, but she definitely makes a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”

He says the lesson people can learn from Holmes is the importance of perspective when life’s challenges get in the way.

“No matter what life throws at you, you can still handle it,” Davis said. “It’s not as bad as you think, it’s only as bad as you make it.”

Turning to faith
Grieving wasn’t easy, Holmes said.

“At first I was just giving up, and I was like, ‘I know my mom, she wouldn’t want me to give up Lord,’” Holmes said. “I know she’d like to see me happy.”

Holmes turned to her Christian faith as a place of comfort and a way to keep her going strong over the last year.

“I go to Bible study, I made a prayer closet, I get in there and start reading to God, talking to him,” Holmes said. “I give it to God, God’s going to take care of it for me.”

Holmes also enjoys singing and says her voice opens up more in church. She grew up singing in a choir as a child and is thinking of making her return to the church choir.

“I’m just really shy, I’m shy,” Holmes said. “I sing soprano, alto, tenor.”

The students have been Holmes’ favorite part of the job for the past 17 years, she said. She intends to stay as long as her health allows, until retirement.

“That’s why I’m not going to ever leave, I’m going to work until I can’t walk,” Holmes said. “As long as God gives me my health and strength to get up every day, and I can walk, I’m coming to work.”

Better days are just on the horizon for Holmes. Until then, she’ll continue to work hard and remain faithful.

“My day is coming, baby girl,” Holmes said. “It’s coming, I can feel it.”

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