Obituary: David Holden

David Arthur Holden, writer: born Cranford, New Jersey 30 November 1959; staff writer, Index on Censorship 1989-93; married 1991 Anne Logue; died London 20 April 1994.

LAST OCTOBER, David Holden and I were planning a journey to the mountains of Papua New Guinea to find an animal everyone else was convinced is extinct: the thylacine, or marsupial wolf. No one but David could have persuaded me to embark on what was clearly a hare- brained expedition with no hope of success, but no one else had the irrepressible enthusiasm, the garrulous good-humour and plain human decency that pervaded everything David Holden did.

Holden was struck down before this and so many other wonderful plans came to fruition. Nothing could have been crueller than the brain tumours which killed him, yet he bore the pain and debilitation without rancour, retaining his kindness and warmth to the last day of his life.

At 34, Holden, who came to Britain from the United States in 1981, was on the verge of receiving the recognition he deserved. His collection of short stories This Is What Happens When You Don't Pay Attention (1991) demonstrated an extraordinary linguistic versatility: they were pithy, beautifully written and often hilarious. A novel, OK Guy, was completed soon before he died, too soon to have found the good publisher he was seeking. He began broadcasting on Radio 4 just over a year ago, yet he made such a mark in this short period that a recent Food Programme ended with a tribute of clips from his work.

But Holden's career was allowed to occupy only part of his life. Astonishingly, he never failed to put his concern for other people ahead of his own needs: even in his last weeks, when there was so much of his own work to complete, he spent precious time helping other writers to get introductions to publishers and monitoring air

pollution.

For four years he poured his energy into campaigning and writing for Index on Censorship, the magazine which defends the right of free speech for people all over the world. With local campaigning groups he worked to protect the open spaces and small shops of his corner of London and to lobby the Government for improvements in air quality. Never content to stand by while injustice was done, he was a campaigner for the Civil Rights Movement of Sri Lanka.

Yet his greatest enthusiasm was reserved for turtles. In his living- room are framed not photographs of his family but of his three American Box Turtles. Slow, phlegmatic, they were the perfect counterpoint to his own irrepressible energy and optimism. From his childhood in New Jersey right up to the time of his death he studied, enthused about and helped to conserve turtles and other reptiles and amphibians, achieving a knowledge of herpetology which matched that of many professionals. The improbable thylacine was just an excuse for what he really wanted to do in Papua New Guinea: to return to the places where he had watched leatherbacks nesting or tracked down the Pig- Nosed Fly River Turtle on his expedition in 1992. The David Holden Turtle Fund was established last week, to continue the conservation work he began.

David Holden will be remembered as a man who embodied the traditions of another age: consideration, honour, compassion and the wonder of a great amateur. Yet the world needs his talents now as never before.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project