Vancouver community activist David Holtzman, who died of a heart attack in Palm Springs on April 9, is being remembered as a compassionate man with a quick mind and a lively sense of humour.
He was on holiday with his partner, Peter Regier, when he passed away. He had just turned 53.
“He was kind. He was generous. He was willing to help out. He was all the best things you could hope for in a human being,” says friend Barb Snelgrove, who worked with Holtzman on the Positive Living BC Red Ribbon Advisory Council. “I am humbled to have worked alongside such a tireless and generous community advocate.”
“David has been a community organizer, activist and out queer man for all of his adult life,” says his staff biography for Out on Screen, where he was director of operations and human resources. “He spends most of his work — and play — time in the social profit sector where he finds meaning and where a community lives its values. His hobbies include dreaming, watching queer cinema, snowboarding, yoga, running and urban farming.”
“Community and community development excites me because it affects all of us,” Holtzman wrote on his LinkedIn profile. “It’s the challenge that lies in consciously creating the physical and social communities we want.
“It is a pleasure to explore and engage people in seemingly simple but enormously important ideas like democracy, civil society, dialogue, conflict resolution (or better yet — conflict avoidance) and fostering meaningful collaboration and community leadership,” he continued. “That’s the challenge — and the reward.”
Holtzman worked as executive director of A Loving Spoonful from 1996 to 2001. He also directed Leadership Vancouver from 2001 to 2006, and in the last 25 years worked in Europe, Asia and around North America with the Department of External Affairs, Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion tour, World University Service of Canada and the Canadian Council on Learning.
“I have a passion for collaboration and good facilitation. I feel humbled and very fortunate to live in the best country in the world and most livable city,” Holtzman wrote on LinkedIn. “Yet I think we can do better in the way we live, work and play together and the way we steward our planet.”
“David is the ever gracious leader who empowers others to realize their greatness,” Leadership Vancouver student Amanda Bonella wrote on LinkedIn.
“He was the backbone of my volunteer service at VQFF, but more than that, he was a sweet, funny, smart man who opened his heart and his life to me, and I will miss him so, so much. I just can’t stop crying. RIP David, the best Diversicorn that ever walked the earth,” Vancouver Queer Film Festival volunteer Verna Morse posted on Holtzman’s Facebook page when news of his death surfaced.
“Today we lost a dear friend, a mentor, a role model, a community leader. You are someone I aspire to become. I love your passion, wit and hard work. You are gone too soon. You are deeply missed,” Yogi Omar posted.
“What an amazing man in every way, always kind, always respectful and always said hello. He gave me a sense of faith in us all to be better men in being kinder to each other,” Mark Long posted.
“One bright, beautiful light in the world just went out,” Kaylum Thornbury posted.
“The world is a smaller, greyer place without you in it. I never met anyone who combined your vast capacity for laughter with serious and effective activism. I will miss you,” Karen Opas-lanouette posted.
Snelgrove says Holtzman firmly believed in having a sense of humour while being serious about one’s work.
Holtzman’s good humour, commitment to creating positive change and balanced approach to life is reflected in his last posts on Facebook.
In one post he encouraged people to get involved with Occupy Canada protests against the federal Conservative government on issues such as election fraud and surveillance legislation.
In another, he checked in from Cathedral City, California, where he was on holiday with Regier.
“OK, everybody out of the pool, it’s time to beer bust,” Holtzman wrote.
Holtzman and Regier became high-profile denouncers of violence against the queer community after they were gaybashed in June 2010.
Both men recently took the stand to testify against their alleged attackers.
Holtzman displayed his quick humour while under relentless cross-examination, drawing a few laughs in the normally staid court proceedings when at one point he asked a defence lawyer to “do that little dance again.”
But Snelgrove cautions against remembering Holtzman solely for that case.
“He was fearless in the fight against hate crimes but also an impassioned advocate in many other areas within our community, such as bullying and his work with people living with HIV,” she says. “He was always willing to jump in on any cause with passion, humour and grace.”
“I know he really enjoyed his role working with Out on Screen as director of operations/HR, a job he was absolutely perfectly suited for,” she adds.
It is not yet known what services will be held in Holtzman’s memory.