Captain Ahab

January 2024 Class Notes

Compiled January 8, 2024

It is January 8th, 2024. Three Kings Day has passed as has the third anniversary of the assault on the capitol (facts are facts; we all saw it and it was no Progressive Insurance ad), and not only has the assault on our senses that will be the 2024 presidential campaign begun; it is in full bloom.

For the past ten years, I have tried to make this column apolitical. To paraphrase Snoopy, “I love mankind; it’s politicians I cant stand (No offense to our own Sherrod Brown whom I quite like personally). But if there is one thing I love passionately, it’s being an American, a cog in the continuing experiment to forge a largely imperfect republic in a world that prefers Caesars (“…and this man is now become a God…”) to poets and lemmings to intellectuals.

I am totally involved in being an American and what responsibilities rather than rights my membership in our society confers upon me. I confess to a bit of a head start. The first member of my family arrived here in 1621 and the last in 1740, but all that means is that my responsibility to cleave to our fundamental beliefs as embodied in the Constitution and its amendments (including the 14th) and to understand this country as always striving, however haltingly, to fulfill its promise is heightened by my family’s longevity here and its historical attempts to welcome all who arrive on our shores. Immigrants are we all. 

So as a student of American culture since high school, I may not be able to tell the difference between a hawk and a handsaw (second Shakespeare reference) but I know an Ahab/ Thomas Sutpen/ Jay Gatsby from a George Washington any day, and I know the threat to the republic that American intellectuals have sensed in such anti-heroes since the 18th century. I know it, and American Studies majors or not, you all know it, and, while it is my opinion that we are on the brink of a second civil war, I will not attempt to foist that belief on any of you in the coming months, but I may refer to it from time to. And I may even try to sneak into the programming of the Reunion not only pickle ball but also some discussion of who we as people are and wish to be, not only as we cruise through the back nine but also look at our legacy to those that follow us. 

So, was that a smooth transition to discussing the reunion? Probably not! But please know that plans for both fun and thought are well underway. There will be pickle ball; there will be a women’s lunch  (hell, I started it) but there will also be times dedicated to expressing our ultimate concerns and to put forward solutions for the future. We are trying our best to include both and my hat is off to Harvey Kent, Cilla Leavitt, Wes Bray, Kathy Slobogin, Stu Rohrer, Bob Martin, Barbara Borst, Betsy Sullivan, Carolyn Grillo, Sharyar Aziz and the many others I hope to be able to thank personally in June. 

With that, and to spare you reading much more of what I write, I refer you to the news that came in from Cyndie Holden, who was married to the subject of the below note for more than 50 years:

“Dr. Richard Capel Holden, 71, passed away after a brief illness on December 12, 2023, in New Haven, CT. Born in London, England, on March 7, 1952 to the late Patrick Cornish Holden and Jean Fisher Holden, Richard and his family relocated to the United States during his youth, where he attended Western Reserve Academy (’70), before earning his undergraduate degree at Yale University (’74). Richard graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, where he was awarded the Peter T. Kilgour Prize, and completed his medical residency at Yale New Haven Hospital. In 1982, Richard joined the private practice Associated Women’s Health Specialists, in Waterbury, CT, where he worked as a partner Obstetrician & Gynecologist for 38 years. A longtime resident of Southbury, CT, Richard had recently retired to East Wallingford, Vermont with his wife Cyndie.

Richard was as passionate about music as he was about his work – an interest he passed along to all three of his children. He sang in many choruses throughout his life, including the Yale Glee Club & Yale Alumni Chorus, the Yale Alley Cats, the Waterbury Chorale, and the church choirs at UCC Southbury and Grace Church Rutland.  A lifelong gardener, Richard and Cyndie took great pleasure in surrounding their homes with beautiful floral landscapes – and recently completed the UVM Master Gardener program, working as active volunteers in their revitalization of The Boy and the Boot Garden at Wallingford House. Their community outreach activities also included Rutland’s Companions in Wholeness project.  

Richard was an avid food & wine enthusiast, and skier, though his greatest love was traveling with his wife and family. From climbing Machu Picchu, to swimming the hot springs of Arenal Volcano, to fishing in the Sea of Galilee, to exploring the safaris of South Africa, Richard’s desire to see the world – and the joy those adventures brought to him – was boundless.  Richard is survived by his wife of 50 years, Cynthia Caravatt Holden; daughters Avery (Aaron) and Whitney (Jason); son Matthew (Kina); grandchildren Calder, Mira and Elliot; brothers Mark (Becky) and David; and sister Jennifer (Geoff). Active in church throughout his life, the family takes comfort in knowing Richard is now with the Lord.” 

Cyndie, if you are reading this, I want you to know that I remember Rich well from Saybrook. What a smile he had! And how friendly he always was in those turbulent times! I didn’t know him well but as soon as I saw your note, I remembered his face and his smile. We all join your in honoring your loss and your fifty years of marriage. 

But Cyndie’s note raises another shortcoming of mine (and perhaps Yale’s). How does a surviving spouse communicate with Yale and, if desired, stay in touch with the class? For example, Cyndie’s announcement of Rich’s passing reached me only after being reported by Cyndie to the Alumni Office. But as far as I know, there is no mechanism by which Cyndie will be certain to see that her note was published. Your Reunion Committee has decided to take this head on with more to follow. But if any of you are aware of spouses of deceased classmates who may want to stay in touch, be invited to the reunion etc., please let us know.