J. Paul Holmes Jr. was born in North Carolina and lived there until his family moved to Georgia in 1955. He attended Northside High School in Atlanta, where he was a star football player for the 1957 state championship team. At the University of Georgia, he was a three-year letterman from 1960-62, receiving the Outstanding Lineman Award and playing in the North-South All-Star Game. He was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and graduated with a bachelor's degree in marketing.
After a brief professional football career with the Dallas Cowboys following his 1963 graduation, Holmes moved to Monticello, Ga., to run a dairy farm and work as a Farm Bureau insurance agent. Holmes entered politics and won a seat on the Jasper County Board of Commissioners, becoming the first Republican elected to office in Jasper County since Reconstruction. He was a member of the first Leadership Georgia class in 1972. He became state director of the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, then in 1975 took over as state director of the Farmers Home Administration.
In 1976, Holmes became an executive at Fulton National Bank. In 1979, he and his partners founded Life of the South Insurance Co., which has grown to be one of the top 10 providers and administrators of credit insurance in the United States. He currently serves as vice chairman of Life of the South and is a board member of McIntosh Bancshares. Holmes is also co-owner of Century 21 HeartLand Realty in Monticello.
Holmes' civic involvement includes serving as a board member and chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the Jasper County Economic Development Authority, and membership on the boards of both Griffin Technical College and the Georgia College and State University Foundation. Holmes is a former officer of the UGA Alumni Association and remains an active member of the UGA Football Letterman's Club and the UGA Presidents Club. He is a deacon of Monticello Baptist Church.