Laguna Woods resident shares memories of brother who surprised town with $4M inheritance
Laguna Woods resident Alison Holt is the sister of the man who surprised his hometown of Hinsdale, New Hampshire, with a $3.8 million inheritance.
(Photo by Mark Rabinowitch)
Alison Holt never in her life thought she’d go viral. The Laguna Woods resident never expected her name to pop up on Google thousands of times, appearing on the websites of news outlets from across the nation, even around the world.
She was especially surprised to see it in the German magazine Der Spiegel and on “some kind of Slavic” site.
That all started in November when her brother, Geoffrey Holt, made the headlines months after his death, and reporters called her for interviews.
Geoffrey Holt stunned his hometown of Hinsdale, New Hampshire, when, after his death in June, it was revealed that he had given his fortune to its coffers – a whopping $3.8 million for Hinsdale, a town of around 4,000 people tucked in the far southwestern corner of the state.
Unbeknownst to townsfolk, Geoffrey Holt, 82, who lived in a trailer, wore threadbare clothes and drove around on a lawn mower, was a savvy investor and had racked up millions.
“Secret multimillionaire who drove lawn mower leaves fortune to his small town,” one headline said.
“Man had no car, no furniture, but died with a big secret,” said another.
Then there was this headline out of the U.K.: “Secret multimillionaire Geoffrey Holt who wore threadbare clothes and lived in a rundown mobile home with no TV stuns small New Hampshire town of Hinsdale with $3.8M gift after his death.”
Her brother did live a simple and frugal life, Alison Holt, 81, said in an interview in her home in Laguna Woods. She admits that he may have been, well, cheap.
But it wasn’t quite what some of the reports made it out to be, she said.
Yes, he lived in a trailer; it was left to him by a widow he lived with who died in 2017. He liked to putter around the mobile home park, but he was hardly its caretaker, as some reports would have it.
Yes, he drove around on a lawn mower, she said. He did own a car (also left to him by the widow), but he didn’t drive it anymore after he suffered a stroke two years ago. Besides, he had a bad leg and could prop it up on top of the mower.
Sure, his clothes may have been a little threadbare, she said, and he didn’t own a computer.
But the rest of it?
“His friend told me he had five TVs, and he did have a little furniture,” Holt said. “And I don’t know if it was true that the legs of his bed were sticking through the floor.”
But he never went out, she said, and never really did anything, keeping to within a 5-mile radius of his home.
Holt believes her brother lived the way he did perhaps as a result of his strict and frugal upbringing. Their father was “weird about money,” she said, and didn’t believe in frivolous spending, such as for a small bouquet of flowers she once bought for her mom.
“Geoff didn’t require much,” she said, “and he was reasonably content with what he had.”
Still, Holt said she was thoroughly surprised about a lot of the things she read about her brother in those reports.
She was surprised that he had that much money: “Oh, yeah, definitely. I still don’t know where he got it all.”
She knew he was investing – “like the newspapers said, he invested in communication stocks.” (He started that before cellphones came onto the scene.) But she thought he had at most only half of what the reports said – maybe $2 million.
She was also surprised that he left all that money to the town. If it had been up to her, she said, she would have divvied it up among three or four charities.
And she was surprised that he had such a vast collection of toy cars, which she said she saw in a photo on one of the websites. She believes he left the toys to his friend’s son.
But mostly, she was surprised about all those many reports on the internet.
Holt thought the story of her brother might spread to Concord, New Hampshire’s capital, around 70 miles or so from Hinsdale, or maybe across state lines to Brattleboro, Vermont, just 7 miles away.
Certainly not across the U.S. and beyond.
“It’s kind of embarrassing. I didn’t want all that attention,” she said.
Her brother, too, would be mortified about the publicity, she said. “Geoff would be turning over in his grave. He would be so embarrassed by all the attention.”
The siblings grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. Their father was an English and world literature professor at American International College, and their mother was an artist who taught art therapy to cerebral palsy patients.
Despite his dyslexia, Alison Holt said, Geoff went on to graduate from the former Marlboro College in Vermont and eventually earned a master’s degree in education from the college where his father taught.
He was in the Navy only briefly (“He couldn’t stand having people telling him what to do,” Holt said), then worked as a high school social studies teacher for a couple of years, before becoming a shift supervisor for the Agway feed company.
Holt herself went to Swarthmore College, then got a degree in library science from what was then the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia. She started working at a library in Baltimore and went on to earn a degree in art librarianship.
In 1981, she followed a friend to California and got a job at the ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, where she computerized the entire library of around 100,000 books, she said. She retired in 2006 and moved to Laguna Woods.
Neither of the siblings had children.
The last time Holt visited her brother was 10 years ago. The last time she spoke to him by phone was this past spring, around March or April, she said. He was already suffering from the effects of vascular dementia, she said, and died on June 6.
So did her brother leave her anything in his will?
“He asked me if I wanted anything, but I told him I had enough,” Holt said (though she did admit that he left her a five-figure sum).
And what about her newfound fame?
Holt knows all about news cycles. “It’ll pass,” she said.