Lives Remembered: Robert Graham Holt

My stepfather, Robert Graham Holt, died on 27 July after a notable career as an agriculturalist and teacher in developing countries, mainly African, followed by devoted service to the local Suffolk community in which lived with his wife on retirement.

Born in Bristol in 1921, the son of a dentist, Graham was set to study medicine, and in 1939 he joined the Indian Army medical corps and became a Captain and Company Commander in Delhi. Invalided back to the UK, on recovery he joined the British Army and, as an intelligence officer aged only 24, and a non-German-speaker to boot, he went to Germany as the Town Major of Munster.

He married Joy, his first wife, and they had a son, who in turn gave him five grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren. After the Second World war, he took a degree in agriculture at Reading University and went as head of the agriculture department to West Oxfordshire Technical College in Witney (where he met Elisabeth, my mother, who became his second wife). There he put into practice many influential innovations and ideas, including the Horse Course, which became the successful and renowned West Oxfordshire Equine College.

After 12 years at Witney, Graham was invited by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation to set up a new agriculture college in Botswana, a task he took on with great gusto. As Principal he built it up to be a leading college in that hemisphere, gaining recognition from overseas and making many friends among his staff and students. The Botswana Agricultural College, near Gabarone, was opened in 1967 by the then President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, whose family remained firm friends.

More such jobs came about and Graham and Elisabeth travelled to different parts of the world: Sierra Leone, a country they adored and lived in for 11 years; Ethiopia; the Seychelles; East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, and West Pakistan, now Pakistan; and Sumatra. Life could be dangerous, as when, caught up in the civil war in East Pakistan, Graham and a colleague were held up for being out after curfew by a teenage soldier who did not know they were actually trying to steal fuel from a lorry to enable eight people to make an overland escape. Graham managed to talk and barter his way out of being shot, and all eight eventually got away to India in one jeep.

He loved sailing and kept a boat in the UK called LTNS (short for "long time no sea"). He started a sailing club in the land-locked Kalahari Desert of Botswana, while in Sierra Leone, he survived a violent hurricane at sea, but was not deterred from further adventures on the high seas.

He and Elisabeth retired at last to Wenhaston in Suffolk, where both involved themselves energetically in village activities, especially those promoting facilities for young people. He revived a languishing youth club, became a parish councillor and was President of the Wenhaston branch of the Royal British Legion.

In latter years, and in failing health, he was an enthusiastically active Chairman of the Parish Council, re-invigorating the Annual Parish Meeting and leading from the front in pursuit of affordable housing. In 2004 he inspired the village to win the Suffolk Coastal District Village of the Year award, and to be runners-up in the Suffolk County Village of the Year competition.

An unassuming man of wise judgement and with an enduring sense of public duty, he gave unstinted commitment to third-world agricultural development, and to his own neighbours.

Judy Boyt

If you would like to contribute an obituary, please send pieces of no more than 600 words to Obituaries, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall London E14 9RS, by fax to 020 7005 2010 or by email to

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