Like many women of her pioneering generation, Carroll Holland came out relatively late in life – near age 40 – and only after much inner struggle. But once past that hurdle, she embraced lesbian pride and community activism with her trademark commitment and enthusiasm. She was what author Jane Rule termed a “hot-eyed moderate,” passionate about change but always through bridge building rather than confrontation.
A journalist by profession, Holland volunteered her skills to GO Info, the Gays and Lesbians of Ottawa newspaper, through much of the 1980s and into the 1990s. She supported GLO and its sister association, Pink Triangle Services, in other ways, too, participating in the often stormy debates and endless meetings through which the community thrashed out its growing pains. She was there for the early Pride marches in the 1980s, a time when marchers were few and it took courage to be so visible.
In the 1990s, in the wake of serious gaybashing incidents and deteriorating relations between queer people and the police, Holland became involved with a ground-breaking initiative. Together with David Pepper, she brought the police and the community together to address their differences, from which arose the Ottawa Police Service’s liaison committee for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. For 12 years Holland devoted herself to this new body, work that included spearheading same-sex-partner violence-prevention initiatives. Though she was on contract, in typical Holland fashion, she put in many more hours than she was paid for. Her efforts earned her a Pioneer Award from the Ottawa police in 2011.
Holland embraced other causes, too, all interconnected in her mind. She supported George Wilkes in establishing the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights monument, which has been an Ottawa landmark on Elgin Street since its unveiling in September 1990. In 2007, she worked with Bob Acton to create an alternate audio guide to the Canadian War Museum – one that discussed the exhibits from a peace activist’s perspective. She played a role in many other initiatives related to world peace and human rights.
Holland drew much of the vision and energy for her activism from her practice of Buddhism. In the early 1980s, she joined the Soka Gakkai International, a Buddhist movement devoted to peace, culture and education, with practitioners in 192 countries and territories. She became an inspirational member of the Ottawa-area chapter, introducing many friends and acquaintances to SGI practice. She was also key in founding a Buddhist Pride group, thus promoting queer visibility within the SGI movement.
Causes were a big part of Holland’s life. Bigger still was her commitment to individuals – to family and friends. She was a loving caregiver to her parents in their old age, shuttling between Ottawa and Windsor – her hometown – to tend to their needs. After her father’s death, she brought her mother to a seniors’ residence in Ottawa, where she could supervise and supplement her care. Holland visited her mom daily and often played piano for the other residents.
In recent years, Holland formed a strong bond with her niece, Aerlyn O’Keefe, and Aerlyn’s three children. Holland became a mainstay of support to the family through difficult times, gaining as much from the relationship as she gave. Aunt Carroll was their rock. Aerlyn, Braeson, Maia and Riley were Carroll’s treasures.
And there were friends; so many friends from different eras and areas of her life. All of them will have known a somewhat different Carroll but surely will share memories of signature traits: her unquenchable optimism, her zany chuckle, her ability to make other people’s joys and sorrows her own, her inability to speak an unkind word about anyone, her delight in nature, her embrace of the moment.
There was Carroll the paddler (she loved the outdoors), Carroll the traveller (she was travel editor for the Ottawa Journal until it closed in 1980), Carroll the music lover (she cut a CD of her piano compositions in 2005).
Here’s a favourite memory of my own. It’s early summer and a few of us are celebrating birthdays on a rock overlooking the Gatineau River. I dip my toe into the water, pull back from the icy cold. Without a moment’s hesitation, Carroll plunges in, disappears and bobs back into view, rosy and warbling like a loon. She’s a picture of health and happiness. She looks immortal.
In the spring of 2011, Carroll was diagnosed with a brain tumour. For a year and a half she struggled with the disease and finally succumbed on Dec 22, 2012. During a time when she was almost totally incapacitated physically and mentally, Carroll still had the power to take my breath away by reciting some lines by Emily Dickinson:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all