MIAMI – The wife of Ulysee Holliman on Tuesday described the struggles her husband went through trying to quit smoking and the agony of watching him decline after he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
“Tell us about his last few days,” Eric Rosen, the attorney for Holliman’s widow Ruby, asked her.
“He couldn’t take his medication. He couldn’t swallow,” Ruby Holliman recalled. “Can you imagine seeing a family member just going?”
Ulysee Holliman died from lung cancer in 1993.
His family are suing cigarette maker Philip Morris for the smoking addiction they maintain killed him. The trial will decide if Ulysee Holliman should be allowed to join a class-action suit filed by a group of Florida residents in 1994 and if punitive damages should be levied against the cigarette company.
Defense attorneys counter that Holliman knew the dangers of smoking and continued anyway and so bears personal responsibility for what happened.
The trial in the Dade County Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Ruby Holliman, 86, described for a jury her life with her husband saying he was a seven-day-a-week worker a good husband and provider. The couple had three children. One of 10 children, Holliman recounted her own life growing up in a segregated part of Georgia and working as a maid on a plantation farm where tobacco and cotton were grown.
“Did you think [back then] that tobacco was harmful?” Rosen asked.
“No,” Holliman answered.
“Did you learn in school that tobacco was harmful?”
She left school at the age of 17 to work full time.
Holliman said in the early years of her marriage her husband Ulysee smoked a pack-and-a-half of Salem cigarettes per day and later two packs a day switching to Marlboro cigarettes.
Ulysee Holliman worked as a front-end loader at a Georgia sand company and later as a truck driver.
“Was he a light, medium or heavy smoker?” Rosen asked.
“Heavy,” Mrs. Holliman answered.
She said he smoked at work and also kept cigarettes on a night stand, smoking at the beginning and the end of each day before going to bed.
“Did he smoke in his car?”
“Yes,” Holliman said.
“If he was sick would he still smoke?”
Holliman said her husband attempted to quit smoking 20 different times.
“I would see him throw them in the trash,” she said.
His period of abstinence she estimated lasted usually three or four days before he would resume smoking.
“What was it like when he tried to quit?” Rosen asked.
“Terrible,” Holliman said. “He would be walking the floor sucking on candy. If you asked him a question he would cut you off short. But he wanted to stop.”
A smoker herself, Ruby Holliman quit after suffering a heart attack. She said her medical problems lessened after she quit. She added that she tried to help her husband also quit smoking, and he tried hard, but to no avail.
In 1993 Ulysee Holliman was diagnosed with lung cancer.
“A biopsy was done and the cancer had gone to his brain,” Ruby Holliman said.
“How did you feel?” Rosen asked.
“Like I had dropped,” Holliman said.
After the diagnosis, she took her husband to a different hospital for a second opinion, but the original diagnosis was confirmed.
“They said there was nothing they could do for him,” Holliman said. “They recommended hospice. Instead I took care of him.”
“Did you know he was going to die?” Rosen asked.
“What was that like?”
Ruby Holliman said she thinks about her late husband every day and misses him.
“I still love him,” she added.
Under cross examination, attorneys defending Philip Morris questioned Holliman about an earlier deposition she had made in which she stated her husband smoked a pack of cigarettes per day, and not a pack-and-a-half as she testified.
“You would buy cigarettes for him?” she was asked.
“Yes,” Holliman said.
“He never told you he was influenced in any way to start smoking,” the defense attorney said.
“No,” Holliman agreed.
“He did not ask for a doctor or a cessation clinic?”
“No,” Holliman said.
Holliman said she never heard a mention from her husband he had recieved any information on health or smoking from tobacco companies or the Tobacco Institute, a trade group founded in 1958 by the tobacco industry and disbanded in 1998 as part of a settlement agreement.
“He never blamed tobacco companies for his lung cancer?”
“No,” Holliman responded.
Holliman was asked if she knew she might die if she didn’t quit smoking.
“Yes,” she said.
“It took a year and it wasn’t easy, you still had cravings?”
“Yes,” Holliman said.