Thomas Holahan ’63 GRD ’72, former East Rock alderman and recent mayoral candidate, died of heart and kidney failure on Aug. 18.
The 66-year-old Holahan, who was known for his commitment to the community, was remembered at Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting for his years of activism and public service. Holahan served as Ward 10 Alderman for six years in the 1980s and was a leader in the Friends of East Rock Organization, which aims to enhance public use of the East Rock Park. He planned to run for New Haven mayor in the fall, until health complications forced him to drop out of the race.
“He was always very active in New Haven,” said his daughter Kerry Holahan, 28. “As a father, he raised my sisters and me to be conscious of our community and always try to make life better for the people around us.”
Holahan is credited with spearheading fundraising to restore the carousel at Lighthouse Point Park, obtaining funds to repair a local bridge, and helping to establish the New Haven Peace Commission.
Although Holahan was born in Queens, N.Y., he and his five brothers grew up in Huntington, N.Y., and Stamford, Conn. He studied at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, where he was valedictorian.
His older brother, Michael Holahan ’61, said he could see hints of his brother’s budding political activism even when he was a young boy. The attention to detail and competitive zest that characterized his brother’s political life started with just a stamp collection and a sailboat, he said.
“Tom was very close with our grandfather, who taught him how to keep a stamp collection, as well as with his sailing instructor in Madison,” Michael Holahan said. “His attitude towards everything later in life was shaped by these two people and their emphasis on detailed preparation. In everything he did in New Haven, you can see he had meticulous attention to detail.”
After high school, Holahan took a year off before matriculating at Yale to join the English Speaking Union, an international educational charity. Once at Yale, Holahan was known for his lofty ideals and his intelligence, his brother said. In the midst of a conservative trend among the Yale student body, Holahan was involved in two left-wing groups — Fair Play for Cuba, a political group that sought to change the negative way Cuba was portrayed in the American media, and Challenge, which brought radical speakers to campus.
He graduated from Yale College in 1963, and received a doctorate in philosophy from Yale in 1972.
After Yale, Holahan spent several years teaching at Hamden Hall Country Day School before moving to Shelton High School. He taught chemistry and physics at Shelton, where he was president of the faculty council, until he retired in 2000. He lectured in philosophy and ethics at the University of New Haven until 2005.
Colleagues on the Board of Aldermen said it was Holahan’s intelligence, combined with his boundless energy and charisma, that made him endearing to both his neighbors and political leaders in the community. Even after leaving office, he continued to stay involved with community issues in the city.
Board of Aldermen President Carl Goldfield said that, although he did not serve at the same time as Holahan, the retired politician would often bring his ideas to the Board. He remembered Holahan as an intelligent man with a great sense of humor and many progressive ideas.
“We didn’t always adopt his views; sometimes he was a little bit more idealistic than we could afford to be,” Goldfield said. “But he’s the kind of person who makes New Haven such an intellectually stimulating place to live.”
Holahan was just as dedicated to his family as he was to the community, his daughters said.
He was an avid sailor, a hobby that he kept up from childhood into his later years, and also enjoyed cooking, playing the piano and reading. Holahan was an active member of several different churches throughout his adulthood, singing in the choir at the Church of the Redeemer on Cold Spring Street in New Haven.
His friends and family said they will remember him as someone who had a love for life and for New Haven.
“He’s definitely a New Haven character,” Goldfield said, remembering Holahan’s idealism. “But who knows? He was probably right.”