Larry Holder, David's father:
There is no meaning to death. Death is not noble. Death is not heroic.
There is meaning to life.
I believe that we live on in the hearts and lives and actions of those that we have loved, that have loved us, in those whose lives have been altered or changed, even in the smallest way, by their interactions with us.
Everyone here today has been moved to some degree by knowing David: While he was growing up in Baltimore, in college or law school, while he was a husband, father and businessman, or even during this last year by the way he approached his cancer and his treatments, and how he appreciated and was comforted by the support of his friends.
It would be meaningful, if we each closed our eyes for a minute and reflected on how David impacted our life.
My name is Michael Niccolini
David and I first met at Cornell where we became friends, and have been business partners for the last 10 years. I am honored to stand up here today to talk about my friend, and I am touched that his family asked me to do so. Ironically, David has been trying to get me to shut up in meetings for a decade. I guess I finally have the floor.
D avid Holder was a gifted thinker, a wonderful husband and father, and above all, a kind and gentle soul. For me, he was my moral compass, my wing man, and my unwaivering voice of reason. If you could sell an idea to David, you knew it would work. It would be modeled to death, but it would work.
I am struck by the number of lives this man touched in such a short time. Look around this room. His beautiful family, High school, college, law school, his work life, his community, his faith, his friends, and on and on. He touched us all. David could be a very private person. I don’t think any of us were fully aware of each other until he started publishing the blog. It became obvious to us all how many souls were praying for him. That was his last gift to us, to know other sides of him this past year through each other.
To Larry, Nancy, Elizabeth and Annie, and most of all Liza, Eli and Reed. Thank you for sharing him with us. Watching Larry’s dedication to david’s care, Nancy’s spiritual vigilance for her son. And Liza’s unwaivering strength and love, has been an inspiration to us all.
I have spent a lot of time lately thinking about Eli and Reed and what they will remember about their dad. I wrote a short letter to the boys about their father that I would like to read to you.
Dear Eli and Reed,
I first met your father when he was an 18 year old boy. Even at that young age, he never once allowed others to turn him off the path he had chosen, although it would have been easier to do so. Those of you who saw David chug a liter of Mountain dew in lieu of a Southern Comfort shot know what I mean.
-So choose your own path and follow it with pride.
I met your father again as a young man, at his first job out of Law School at Microstrategy. I watched him Dream enormous dreams- it was mesmerizing…..So much so that we quit our jobs and spent the next 10 years sitting in an office together chasing those dreams, and arguing about who was the actual boss, and who had to make the coffee.
-So follow your dreams, whatever they are, and your father will be proud
I saw your father work harder than any man I know, never getting tired, never slowing down, never not smiling. He used look at my bleary eyes when I was angling to leave the office and say, where are you going, someone’s making money in Tokyo. When David was a freshman at Cornell, he was a starting midfielder on the lacrosse team for one day. As he told the story, on the opening face off of fall ball, the man he was guarding caught the ball, ran by him like he was standing still, and scored a goal. David was summarily benched, and did not get back on the field for 4 years. He worked, and worked, and worked. And his senior year, he made it back on the field, he was a team captain, and won the “Charlie Hustle award” which he described as the award for the player who made the most out of the least physical skill. (he always hated when I told that story)
-So whatever you do, give it 100%, leave it all on the field.
I watched your father chase after your beautiful mother. David told me years later that he knew she was the one the day he first saw her in a law school class. She was not so convinced. But after several years of pursuit, he actually wore her down until she married him.
-So persevere, and you might end up the love of your life.
I watched your father as each of you was born, and I saw the joy that being your dad brought to his life. Eli, he bought you a full size lacrosse stick before you could pick up a pacifier by yourself. He took you out with ruby and that stick and threw tennis balls to her for hours upon hours. He spent so much time with you boys at turtle park they should rename it. He loved to be outside with you, he loved to feel the sun on his face, and he loved both of you. And he had plans to teach you many lessons: books not video games, fly not rod and reel, o’s not nationals.
-So always cherish the joy that is your family
I watched your father dedicate selflessly his time and efforts to causes he deeply cared about. His passion for education. His teaching and coaching, his love for the Kipp School, his good work with Ruby at PALS, and his unwaivering faith.
-So seek out things you care about beyond yourself and your life will be richer for it.
And I watched your father struggle against a terrible disease. He did so with courage, and resolve, and dignity, and heroic strength. His courage was only rivaled by that of your mother, who held his spirit aloft by the sheer force of her will.
-So live your lives with your parents' courage, you need not be afraid.
Your father was a wonderful man. He loved you and your mother more than anything on this earth. He was my friend and partner. You should be proud of the life that he lived, as I know he will be proud of both of you.
Let me leave you with your father’s own words:
March 10th, 2008: We had a perfect weekend with the boys, from Eli's worm digging and un-prompted thank yous to Reed's precious smiles and firm belief that he's four. It was a gift and I loved every minute.
Liza and I arrived safe and sound in NYC on Sunday afternoon, enjoyed a warm welcome in our hotel lounge from old friends, and then ate Thai food in our room. Today I had an appointment at the hospital in the morning and then we cruised the city a little, saw some friends, and picked up Sushi. We're getting a little quiet time before I head in for my extended stay on Wednesday morning, and it's nice.
My 3 Fs - faith, family, and friends - are in full force these days, giving me great courage and conviction. I love you all, especially my angel of a wife, who's love for me is the most magical force in my life.
Safe travels brother.
It is an honor to have this opportunity to speak about my wonderful friend David. Thank you Liza. I’ve been friends with David since we were two years old. I can recall countless childhood afternoons at the Holders’ modernist house off Bellona Avenue, nestled low in the woods of Ruxton, Maryland. One Saturday, we were probably 8 years old, and David’s dear housekeeper Rosetta was fixing lunch for David, Alex and me. She was cooking hot dogs. As they boiled, poor Rosetta very kindly asked us if we wanted our buns warmed. Now, for 8-year old boys, that’s about the funniest thing a person could possibly say, and we laughed for the next half-hour or so.
Because I’ve been friends with David for so long, he is woven very tightly into my life and who I am. I want to make a few observations about him, some of which you may share, given that David was consistently David, whatever the situation and whomever the company.
David took sincere interest and delight in people. He cultivated his friendships, both old and new, and loved connecting people to one other. He was a true networker, in the best sense of the word. Although modest about himself, he was effusive in his praise of those around him, such as when he would introduce friends of his to one another. I’m afraid these introductions would invariably result in some mutual disappointment, because let’s face it, none of us are quite as terrific as David made us out to be.
While David had innumerable strengths, I feel compelled to point out a minor weakness. David had limited musical taste and ability. I remember Dave being very excited one time about playing me a new CD he’d bought. It was some cajun zydeco jazz band, and the results were not pretty. When Dave decided to take up a musical instrument, it was the spoons. Not only did he play the spoons but he played them badly. I can still hear him thwacking away in the townhouse in Federal Hill while Thomas McIntyre grooved on keyboard.
In this past and pretty terrible year, family and friends rallied to David and Liza’s side. David had always given so much, that it was natural for people to come running when he finally needed some help. The sheer number of friends showing their support, through word and deed, was staggering, and a testament to David’s impact.
When some people get very sick, the experience profoundly changes them, as they re-examine their lives and perhaps regret having wasted time and having neglected what should have been priorities. I don’t think this was the case with David. His priorities were already very much in order, and therefore needed no adjustment. Family, friends, and enjoying the moments that life has to offer. Whether it was cooking barbecue on his deck, standing in a cold river waiting for the rainbow trout to bite, finishing the fast break on the courts of AU, splashing at the Great Wolf water park with my daughter Lucie, celebrating the Terps’ triumph in the NCAAs, taking the Rubester for a walk, hugging his beloved wife or swinging his boys in the air, David truly enjoyed the moment, with a glint in his eye and a big, trademark smile on his face. And during the past year, although the smiles came less frequently, he continued to remind us of the importance of enjoying those moments and of being aware of our good fortune. In those reminders, he gave us all yet another gift. I love you David and will miss you.
Elizabeth Holder, David's sister:
What though the radiance which was once so bright Be now for ever taken from my sight, Though nothing can bring back the hourOf splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather findStrength in what remains behind-William Wordsworth
I'm not sure if it is possible to put into words what David meant to those who knew him but i will try because i know he is listening. Dave, living with you for those years in Baltimore was the best gift I've ever been given. You showed me ho life should be lived, with depth of thought, seriousness of purpose, endless reserves of kindness, and an appetite for laughter and good times. What you gave to all of us that knew you could best be described as a spirit. A wise man once said "the spirit of life never dies. it is the infinite gateway to mysteries within mysteries".
The spirit you shared with all those who knew you and the example you gave us with the way you lived your life will live on inside each of us forever. Thank you. I love you.
______________My name is George Hess. I have known David as a baby, a boy, an adolescent, a man, a surrogate son, my boss, and as a very close friend.
Remarkably bright and quick to learn things, David rarely made the same mistake twice because he retained every detail of his past experiences.
With his creative thinking, he was a tower of strength for any organization in which he was involved. A few years ago I was meeting with him about something to do with his business and told him about a new Board I was forming for an organization called the Baltimore Curriculum Project. The mission of the organization was and is to take failing public schools after they have been converted to Charter Schools and make them into good schools. He told me about his experience with the KIP school in D.C. and immediately said he wanted to help. I told him the Board would meet 4 times a year in Baltimore plus committee meetings that would likely be in Baltimore as well. In his wonderful, direct, enthusiastic way, he said driving didn’t bother him; he knew and cared about Baltimore and he wanted to be involved. He loved helping disadvantaged people because he believed that if they had a fair chance, they could improve their lot.
So, among other things in the little more than two years that he was actively involved, the Baltimore Curriculum Project got him to head our Finance Committee, our Strategic Planning Committee, and to be the Treasurer of the organization. He was fabulous, and the other Board members and paid staff loved him. The abounding energy that he showed was one of his trademarks.
Another was his respect for people as individuals for what they could contribute to the cause. You never felt old, young, female, black, or white when you worked with David. You were a person who was respected for what you were contributing honestly to the cause. If you weren’t straight and honest, you were soon off his team whether it was business, lacrosse, basketball, going fishing, or dealing with life’s prosaic problems. Once he respected you and believed in you, he was loyal to a fault.
With all these great attributes he also had a great sense of humor and laughed a lot. I remember when Prime Shot, the photography company he and Mike Niccolini created, rented a 10,700 square Foot space on Vermont Avenue in downtown Washington. The place had small offices strewn around the perimeter and a huge open space in the middle. I was the curmudgeon CFO of the organization. He had seen the space first and knew I questioned whether we needed so many square feet. When I saw it, I asked him what we were going to do with all this open space. So he opened a big bag he had brought with him, pulled out a football, and said, “We can have some great touch football games.”
Though I could talk for hours about David, I’ll tell you only one other story about him. Last January after the tumors had returned to his gut and he was involved in his second regiment of chemotherapy, Mike Niccolini needed help with some aspects of their business. Dave Sislen, Lara George, and I had volunteered and were asked to meet with Mike. As the three of us were waiting for Mike, we reflected on why we wanted to be involved. Lara said it better than Dave and I when she said: “ David Holder is the personification of ‘good,’ and you have to want to help his company at a time like this.”
I thought of concluding these remarks by reading A. E. Housman’s
Poem, “To an Athlete Dying Young.” Because it was written over a hundred years ago and didn’t describe David well enough, I decided I had a better thought for you to take away. I want to read something my 15 year old granddaughter, Sophie Hess wrote last Thursday, the day before David died:
David is leaving us.
Slowly and surely
His breath will run thinner
Through the cavities and corners
Of his tremendous soul.
We will see the change
In his skin and bones.
What was full,
Is almost empty.
In his fingers and in his eyes.
In the whispering stumbles
Of his voice.
In the wavers
In the quivers
Of the beating
Of his heart.
Two years ago,
We held hands around a wooden table.
Candles burned and food steamed proud proclamations.
It was Thanksgiving.
And we did not need
To savor the sound he made
When he made it.
He was thankful
My mother looks me in the eye tonight
And tells me
That it will be peaceful.
That when it ends,
It will end quietly
Never did I think
David is leaving us.
Slowly and surely
His breath will run thinner
Through the Cavities and corners
Of his tremendous soul.
We have just heard the most beautiful stories and memories from a few people who were closest to David Holder. And each one of us could add many more memories and stories. It is clear that the world lost a great light this week. How could it be that this young man, so full of life and love and blessing, could be cursed with this disease? God, how could you rob us, his family, his friends, his community, of the many years he should have had? We cannot make sense of David Holder’s untimely death, but God, we certainly know you have blessed us with his remarkable life.
This week, our tradition’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, discusses blessings and curses. Blessings and curses are traditionally seen as opposites, two ends of a spectrum, but there are some people in the world, like David Holder, who understands that they are far more closely linked, more like two sides of a coin, that one can flip, from curse to blessing, with a turn of hand, with a change in our mindset.
You only have to read David’s blog tracking his illness, or rather what he’d call, his road to recovery, to know that he could even turn this illness into a blessing. He outlines his curse, his diagnosis, by saying:
I was diagnosed with "Stage III Peripheral T-Cell Lymphoma NOS" in August 2007, at 34 years old, with an amazing wife, two kids, loving dog, and generally feeling (as I continue to so feel), as blessed as anyone on this earth.
In his blog, David goes on to characterize a 5 month hospital visit to New York City for Cancer treatments as an adventure, thinking of it as a stint abroad. Curse or blessing? David consistently chose blessing.
David’s blog is an inspirational journey of healing, not of cure, but nonetheless tremendous healing, that he experienced through the power of love and friendship and faith—healing that people gave to him, but that we received in return, tracking his heroic battle with cancer. Throughout the blog, David is comforting each one of us, giving US strength, and courage and hope, even as he is consistently thanking us for giving it to him.
That is David Holder. Someone who always knew how to make others feel comfortable, even in the most difficult circumstances, who radiated positive energy and light and just made you want to be his friend.
Liza shared with me her unusual first date with David, it was her second year in law school. Immediately before David was to pick her up to go see an Orioles game, Liza was on the phone with her mother, learning that her grandmother had just passed away. Their date began in tears, with Liza retelling the news of the death to David. They did not know each other well yet, but David knew just the right way and just the right words to comfort her.
I met David a little over 12 years ago at Billy and Wendy Hess’s wedding. The Hess’s are family, and the Holders are very close to the Hess’s, and soon after I met David, he felt like extended family. We met a few more times at family celebrations and several years later David called to share that he was to have a celebration of his own, and asked if I would officiate over his marriage to Liza.
I saw immediately that David had found his beshert, his soulmate in Liza. You were an amazing team, a true partnership in every way. Liza, you said that each day was better than the last with him, even during this last horrible year of treatment. You felt privileged being the One in his life, “I got David Holder!” On your wedding day, 7 years ago, you promised each other to love with your fullest hearts, in good health and adversity, you promised to raise a Jewish family in a home filled with laughter and love. Liza, you and David fulfilled these promises more deeply than any other couple I know. There are no words for the loss that you bear, but I know that even knowing how short your time would be, you would not have traded the blessings that David brought to your life for anything.
Eli and Reed, you represent those blessings, personified. Eli, I hope you share the stories you heard today and this message with your brother Reed, when he gets older. Your Dad was a great man, a man of immense love and strength. You Dad loved your mother so much it was magical. But his love was not limited, and when you came into the world, he found a new love that wasn’t there before, a love that you brought him. Because of you, there is more love in the world. That super strong love your Dad felt for you, and for Reed, it never goes away, it cannot die. For as you live, your father’s love lives through you. He has instilled in you his most important values, and the unconditional love that will help you grow up to be a great man like him. And know, there are going to be ways that he will still give you strength, and still connect you to other people, and still make you laugh, even when he’s not here in person, as he did for you before. He’ll always be your Dad.
And to David’s father and mother, Larry and Nancy, it is against the natural order to have to bury your child. It is an unspeakable loss. You raised an amazing son, and you will find ways, with Elizabeth and Annie, and the rest of the family, to share what is most precious with his sons, with the next generation of your family.
Amidst this darkness and pain, what do we do? During the dark days of David’s illness, Liza said, “we all followed David’s lead, and he carried us through.” But now that he’s gone, what do we do? We still follow his lead. We flip that cursed coin, and choose blessing. I found these inspiring words from David’s blog particularly fitting for us now:
One of the great benefits of this disease has been reconnecting with people. I've been so lucky to have crossed paths with so many good people over the years. Each communication has an immediate physical effect on me. Some chemical must be released in my brain that allows me to recall the good times and fond feelings, and the memories wash over me like a warm blanket. If I'm physically down at that moment, then the pain goes away as I get lost in the memories.
When we are down, we have our memories, to make some of the pain go away, memories that keep David alive for us, memories that will wash over us like a warm blanket. But David would ask us to do more—David would want us to take that warm blanket, and use it to cover the shoulders of a resident in a nursing home, who has no one to visit, but who used to have David and Eli and their beloved therapy dog, Ruby, visiting every Sunday. In this way, we choose blessing, and this is part of David’s legacy to us. David would have us take that warm blanket and use it to heat up the hopes of an inner-city child for a better future as he did through lacrosse and many other educational efforts. In this way, we choose blessing, and this is part of David’s legacy to us. He would have us take that blanket and wrap it around each other, as he would have done to comfort each of us in pain. He would have us share memories, connect and bring more love into the world. In this way, we choose blessing, and this is part of David’s legacy to us.
Our tradition says, I have set before you blessing and curse. Life and Death, Choose Life. David chose blessing at every opportunity. And even as he faced his own death, he was an emblem of living life to the fullest. Even in this darkest hour, we thank you God for the blessing of David Holder’s life. And we will strive to follow his example, and to make the world a better place, to choose blessing as David did, and in this way, David will continue to live through us. May his memory always be for blessing. Amen.