Constance Minzey Holton, community volunteer and world traveler, died on October 5, 2011, in Oakland, California, of cancer at age 86.
Born in South Bend, Indiana, Connie grew up with her extended family on a farm in Green Township. Her memories of depression-era farm life always remained with her, becoming stronger in the last few years of her life. From this quintessentially American start she went on to become a world traveler, study 3 languages, and become involved in global issues. This was all experienced hand-in-hand with her husband of 58 years — and love of her life — Richard H. Holton. The life they created for themselves and their children included passions for public service, music, travel, wilderness, and friends.
Connie and Dick met at Miami University, Ohio and were married in 1947. Dick’s education and career took them to Puerto Rico (where their first child, Melissa, was born), Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Columbus, Ohio (where their second child, Jane, was born) before making the cross-country trip to Berkeley in 1957, where Dick was assistant professor in the School of Business Administration. One year later, their son Timothy was born.
Berkeley in the 60s and 70s was a rewarding venue for Connie’s pro-active and outgoing personality, her interest in politics, and her determination to break away from the conservative context of her upbringing. She was Executive Vice President of the California League of Women Voters during Ronald Reagan’s governorship, and active with the School Resource Volunteers.
Her community involvement continued through the 80s and 90s as a board member of the Foreign Affairs Council, Berkeley Senior Center, the International Hospitality Center, and the University YWCA, where she served as President. In 1991 she received the Woman of the Year Award from the City of Berkeley’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Her most recent volunteer involvement was teaching in the English-in-Action program at the University YWCA.
In addition to these commitments, Connie was the consummate academic hostess, making the Holton household a frequent destination for both visiting and local faculty families.
The Berkeley experience was enriched by purchasing a vacation home in Inverness (Marin County), in the mid 60s, where happy weekends and summers were spent with family and friends, and new life-long relationships were made. Inverness weekends, spent hiking in the Point Reyes National Seashore, also proved to be Dick’s secret weapon when recruiting new faculty members to the Business School.
Living abroad became a significant part of Connie’s life in the early 60s. Having traveled to Europe for the first time in 1956, Connie was enthusiastic when Dick was offered consulting positions with the Greek and Italian governments in 1961, which he was able to accept by taking a sabbatical from UC Berkeley. This time away from Berkeley was extended from 18 months to three years when an offer came in from the Commerce department to work in the JFK administration. Fortunately, Connie was nothing if not flexible, and they packed up the three kids and moved to Washington DC. One advantage of this move was being able to spend a few summers at Corey Lake, Michigan, her childhood summer home.
The next travel adventure began in 1980 when Dick became dean of visiting faculty of the newly established National Center for Industrial Science and Technology Management Development, which was part of the Dalian Institute of Technology in the People’s Republic of China. Connie was quickly recruited there to teach English. At this point she put away her French and Italian books, and learned some rudimentary Chinese. This proved to be a good investment of her time, since they returned to China nearly every year of that decade, for stays of two to six months. They were known by their friends and colleagues there as the “dynamic duo in Dalian.”
In addition to her own contributions to each community she lived in, Connie is described by friends as the quintessential “great woman behind the great man.” She was known for her sense of humor, her outspoken nature, and her truly international hospitality.
She is survived by her brother Ronald, daughters Melissa Holton of Woodbridge, Jane Kriss of Sausalito, son Timothy Holton of Berkeley, and grandchildren Jesse Kriss, Peter Kriss and Ella Holton-McCoy.
If you would like to make a gift in Connie’s memory, the Holton family asks that donations be sent to the Timothy A. Hodson Scholarship Endowment, The University Foundation at Sacramento State, 6000 J St. Sacramento CA 95819. (To make a gift online, visit the Sacramento State website, click on “Make a Gift” at the top menu, then click on the “Make a Gift” box. Under “Gift Designation” select “Tim Hodson Scholarship” from the drop-down menu.)
A memorial is planned for Saturday, November 5, 6:30pm, at the Hillside Club in Berkeley.