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March 28, 2011—NORTHAMPTON - (reprinted from the Hampshire Gazette) Richard and Isabel Holden settled in Northampton in 1948 when he became president of what was then Northampton National Bank. Until their deaths - Richard Holden died in 1998 at age 91 and Isabel Holden died in 2007, at 93 - they were fixtures in Northampton's community and civic life.
Years after their deaths, the couple's impact is still being felt.
It was announced Thursday that a bequest from the Holdens, totaling $1.4 million, will benefit three institutions in Northampton: Cooley Dickinson Hospital, Edwards Church and the Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech.
The money will be divided equally among the three organizations, according to Dianne Cutillo, of Cooley Dickinson.
Craig Melin, the hospital's CEO, called the couple "two unforgettable friends" who enriched the lives of everyone they knew.
"Richard was a trustee at the hospital before I arrived," Melin said Thursday. The Holdens hosted an event at their home to welcome the Melins to Northampton, he said. "We immediately hit it off," Melin said. After Holden's death in 1998, the Melins remained close to Isabel, who was known to her friends as Matthew, a nickname that had stuck since college.
An animal lover and avid horsewoman, Matthew Holden was often seen riding in Northampton, dressed in a tailored hunting jacket and wearing a tweed cap. She taught music at the Smith College Campus School, was passionately interested in the works of Shakespeare, and viewed the world with what Melin said his wife, Carol, once called "a wicked, devilish sense of humor." She has "a crisp Yankee way of expressing herself" well in a very few words, Melin said, and her vibrant intellectual curiosity stayed with her until the end of her life.
Matthew Holden had her own connection to the hospital as a member of the CDH Auxiliary. She also served as an officer of the Northampton Historical Society (now Historic Northampton) and volunteered at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leeds.
Melin said the hospital will consult with the Holden family about how to use the gift.
The school next door
The Holdens lived for many years on Round Hill Road, where they became part of the Clarke School neighborhood.
"They lived next door to the campus," said Jane Lennox, the schools' chief development officer, when asked about the couple's connection to Clarke. Over the years, she said, they mixed and mingled often with students at the school, greeted them at their home on Halloween nights, and came to plays and other events. "They became part of the Clarke family," she said.
The bequest to Clarke - which now has programs in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Jacksonville, Fla., in addition to the Northampton campus - will be used to provide scholarships and financial support for Clarke programs, according to a statement from Bill Corwin, the school's president.
The aid will support the schools' mission of helping "children who are deaf and hard of hearing gain the listening, learning, and spoken language skills they need to succeed in school and in life," Corwin said.
The money will help ensure that no student is denied what Clarke has to offer because of lack of money, Lennox said. "I know the Holdens would support that," she said.
Richard Holden's many community activities included a stint on the board of directors at the Clarke School. He served in a similar role at the Edwards Church, where he also sang in the choir for more than four decades.
In a statement, the Rev. Peter Kakos said the church is "overjoyed and honored to share" in the generous bequest.
The Holdens, he said, "had been instrumental in the construction of our present building, and leaders in re-establishing our endowment, which was completely depleted by the costs incurred ..." The "gift of thoughfulness," he said, will help the church "sustain for many years to come, the ministry and mission which they so dearly held close to their hearts."