Randy J. Holland Celebration of Life: Jim Holland Remarks

Thank you all for coming today to help celebrate Randy’s life.  Your presence honors him and his life’s work.

You have already heard today about Randy’s many accomplishments, along with his unwavering personal integrity, his passionate devotion to his family, and the quiet strength that came from his innate humility.  In every aspect of his life, he demonstrated his profound faith in people’s goodness and his conviction that the legal system sustains the social fabric that unites and protects us all.

Randy’s achievements place him among the most accomplished members of his profession.   Impressive as those achievements certainly are, however, for Randy they were never an end in themselves, but a means to achieving his deeply held, life-long values.  I speak here today as his brother, one who knew him long before he became Justice Holland, and I hope to provide some insight into the origins of the person that he became – the seeds that came to fruition in everything that he did.

Randy and I lost our mother at an early age – Randy was 4 and I was 2.  She was a nurse, who committed her too-short life to caring for others.  Her loss affected both of us in indelible ways, and I see Randy’s devotion to family and relationships as a mission to honor our mother by supporting and serving others. 

From left: Randy Holland, Virginia and James Holland, Jim Holland

A few years later, our family moved to Milford, where we both grew up.  It is particularly fitting that Randy was able to devote his life to service in the state that became our new home, and remained his home for the rest of his life.  Delaware became part of him.  Although I have lived across continents and oceans for most of my adult life, Randy was an anchor that brought me back as often as I could.  Visiting Randy and Ilona, and revisiting familiar and meaningful places from our childhoods, renewed and sustained our connection.  Randy and Ilona created a sense of home through their grace and generosity.

One of my vivid early memories comes from the first days of our time in Milford.  We moved in the middle of my kindergarten year.  As we were adjusting to our new circumstances, I learned that there was no public kindergarten, and that I would have to enter 1st grade without the benefit of the second half of my kindergarten year.  Discovering that other children were attending private kindergarten, which I did not, I became frightened and anxious that I would fall behind the others.  When I expressed this fear, magnified by my five-year-old perspective, Randy immediately reassured me with the words, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you know how to read.”  So, from his lofty status as a 2nd grader, he took it upon himself to be my teacher and to allay my fears.  Randy played no small part in my love of reading and literature, which became my life’s work. I learned not only to read, but I learned what it means to be loved and cared for – something that never changed over the course of our lives as brothers.

In much the same way, Randy paved my way through school during our time growing up in Milford.  Trailing behind him by two years in a small school, I was often greeted with recognition, and “You must be Randy’s brother” by teachers and coaches.  This familiarity always worked in my favor, given the impression that Randy left on everyone.  It also set a standard to emulate, and I strove to meet the expectations that Randy had established.  Rather than experiencing these expectations as a burden, I found them to be both comforting and inspiring, for which I remain immensely grateful.  Once, though, after I arrived at the larger world of Swarthmore, also following in his footsteps, he met someone who had previously met me.  We shared a laugh at the fact that, for the first time in his life, someone said to him, “You must be Jim’s brother.”

Randy (left) and Jim (right) in Milford with their father, James (center)

Education was a primary focus in our household.  Not himself the beneficiary of a formal education, our father encouraged both of us to do well in school.  For him, education was a path blocked by his early life circumstances, and he wanted to make sure we both benefited from the opportunities presented by education.  His model of reading and self-education had a profound effect.  It was a lesson that stuck, and while I am the one who pursued a career in education, I have always regarded Randy as a teacher at heart.  Although practicing law required partisanship and advocacy, Randy was perhaps the least adversarial person I have ever known.  I have no doubt that he was a great advocate for his clients, but I feel that serving as a supreme court justice allowed Randy to flourish by freeing him from a narrow goal of advocacy and shifting to the broader goal of justice and fairness for all.  The people, especially those at risk, became his greatest client.  As their advocate, he always sought to make sure that no one was at a disadvantage in the legal system, whether by age, financial situation, or other circumstances.  In every situation, Randy always sought to listen, to understand, and to communicate, never to dominate. He built relationships of trust and respect, the essence of every good teacher.  There is a saying in mountain climbing that the measure of a good leader is not how high you climb, but how many people you bring with you.  That’s the kind of leader and teacher Randy was.  Like me, others learned from Randy, whether in the courtroom, at the conference table, or in a law school classroom.  And what they learned far transcended the details of any case or argument.

Randy admired Thomas More, a man of character and integrity.  In the play A Man for All Seasons, More discusses his principled opposition to Henry VIII with his pragmatic friend, the Duke of Norfolk.  When Norfolk questions the risk More takes by honoring his principles, More responds:

“What matters is that I believe it, or rather, no … not that I believe it, but that I believe it.”

For More, belief is not a less-than-certain claim to knowledge, easily compromised in the face of convenience.  Instead, believing constitutes character.  To sacrifice belief is to surrender the core of one’s being.  Randy, too, believed that compromising a belief was a loss of self, something that he never would or could permit.  There are many other wonderful moments in this play that illustrate the principles and beliefs that More and Randy shared, about integrity, about the law, about self-respect, and about humility, regardless of status or station.  Both Randy and More were men for all seasons.

When Randy and Ilona built their current house in Rehoboth, to replace an old, familiar, but aging one, he asked me to suggest a name for it, something that would capture the meaning and significance of the place that meant so much to them.  I knew that it was both a haven and a fulfillment of their dreams.  The image that immediately came to mind was from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, where he speaks of “the still point of the turning world.”  For me, this image captures a sense of refuge amid the chaos of everyday life, a place that nourishes the spirit.  Yet it is not only the house that is a “still point.”  Randy himself is a “still point of the turning world” – unchanged by circumstances and unchanging as a steady beacon of his good faith, kind heart, and generous spirit.

The stone in front of Randy and Ilona’s home

In preparing to speak today, I was reminded of our father’s funeral many years ago.  At that service, I tried to convey the complexity of parent/child relationships by saying that I am who I am both because of and in spite of my father.  He was a powerful influence for good, but also one from whom I, like most children, felt the need to separate, if I were to be my own person.  My relationship with Randy, also immensely powerful, lacked any need for separation.  He supported me in everything that I did, without hesitation or judgment.  His support enabled me to become my own person.  Without question, I owe the parts of myself that I value most to the lifelong support I received from Randy.  I will miss him more than I can say.

I want to conclude with another key aspect of our shared childhood.  Some of you may remember Boys Town, the orphanage founded by Father Flanagan early in the 20th century.  In the annual appeals for support that arrived at our house, there was always a card.  In the picture on the card, one boy is carrying another, smaller boy, on his back, and the caption read, “He ain’t heavy, Father, he’s my brother.” 

These cards were always displayed prominently in the house, and our father, as well as Father Flanagan, reminded us frequently that helping is never a burden.  It’s an acknowledgement of shared responsibility and shared humanity.  It’s an image that I will never forget, and it’s an image that Randy lived as one of his core beliefs.  It’s particularly poignant for me, as the younger brother, the one being carried.  I was blessed by being Randy’s brother by birth. Throughout his life, however, Randy embodied the belief that every person, regardless of gender, was his brother.

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