WALLA WALLA — Dave Holden was a cool guy.
I don’t mean cool in that he turned girls’ heads whenever he passed by, although he may have, or that he dressed to the nines and drove a fancy sports car, which I don’t believe he ever did.
But Dave was cool under pressure.
Dave went to work for me as a part-time sports writer back in the early 1980s and proved to be one of the best hires I ever made. He was loyal, efficient and his writing was as clean as a whistle.
Most of all, I was impressed with Dave’s demeanor under Saturday night deadline pressure when the push was on to get Sunday morning’s sports pages on the press. He never panicked. He seemed unfazed by the maelstrom that often swirled around him.
Dave was cool.
He had all of the necessary qualities to be successful in this business, especially his love of athletic competition. And for a few short hours he almost became a full-time member of the U-B sports staff.
This was after Dave had taken a full-time job at Whitman College in 1989 but was still “stringing” for the U-B. A job opening came up at the U-B, Dave applied and I offered him the position.
The following day, however, he declined the offer and opted instead to remain at Whitman.
My guess at the time was that Dave’s interest in the U-B job was because it was full-time sports while his position in the Whitman communications department dealt only in part with the school’s athletic programs.
He changed his mind, I suspect, after taking a long-range look at his family situation. One of the benefits of working at Whitman is the school’s tuition remission program which provides free college education for an employee’s children.
That’s a huge perk. And all three of Dave’s children — Dusty, Adam and Emily — took full advantage.
And a few years later, when Dean Snider took over as Whitman College’s athletic director in 2006, Dave was rewarded when he became the school’s full-time SID. According to his wife Janice and their three kids, it was Dave’s dream job.
Dave died suddenly Friday afternoon of a heart attack. He was 58 years old.
“He was a remarkable man,” Snider said Tuesday morning from his campus office where he was preparing for Tuesday night’s memorial service and still trying to come to grips with Dave’s death.
“When it comes to him, the lines between friend and colleague are absolutely blurred,” Snider said. “In his position Dave reported to me, but we also became very close and he made a difference in my life. He supported me as a friend.”
Snider was likewise impressed with Dave’s professionalism and work ethic.
“Work is often measured in how much time people put in,” Snider said. “But I think another is how much a person produces, and Dave could just produce work. I don’t think there is anyone at this college who has had their work so well read around the country by so many folks. He was an amazing guy.”
And Snider was privy to a side of Dave’s low-key personality that those who didn’t know him as well might never have guessed.
“Dave was exceedingly funny,” Snider said. “He had such a dry wit and sense of humor. He was brilliant.”
Dave’s death leaves a huge hole in the school’s athletic department just as a new school year is about to begin. But Snider said there will be no rush to fill that vacancy.
“At some point we will get to that, but not until after we honor Dave and his family appropriately,” Snider said.
“It’s amazing,” Snider added, “that when a person of Dave’s caliber and quality is missed how many people step to the front and ask, ‘How can we help?’ Because of Dave’s gracious nature, we have had offers from multiple sports information directors from throughout the country offering to help fill the gap. And also from our own communications office on campus.
“We don’t have to rush. We will do what is appropriate when the time comes.”
In late summer of 2009 I was in the process of filling a part-time position on the U-B sports staff. And as I plowed through a stack of resumes, I came upon the name Dustin Holden.
Recently graduated from college and back in the area, Dave’s oldest son was looking to follow in his father’s footsteps. It was an easy hire, and Dusty continues to work for the U-B today.
There’s a lot of his dad in Dusty, right down to that confounding loyalty to the New York Yankees. And while he still has a ways to go to measure up to his dad’s high standards, he’s making steady strides in that direction.
One thing’s for sure. Dusty had a great role model.