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


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)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice