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Remembering an inspiring leader

April 13, 2012
Raina Delisle

David Holtzman

Gay rights activist David Holtzman made an impression on fellow Royal Roads University Leadership alumnus Ed McKenzie.

“He was passionate, but he was also relaxed,” McKenzie says. “He wasn’t uptight about his learning experience. He seemed to really relish it and have a lot of fun with it.”

McKenzie recalls the time Holtzman belted out a song to the tune of I Will Follow Him, with his fellow students playing instruments and providing backup vocals. The cohort, led by Holtzman, changed the lyrics to the song as part of a team building exercise.

“He was a bright guy with a lot of energy,” says McKenzie, who teaches in the Centre for Applied Leadership and Management. “I appreciated his spirit and his joy for life and his enthusiasm for learning in way that ensured he had fun along the way. That will be my enduring memory of David.”

Holtzman passed away suddenly of a heart attack while vacationing with his partner, Peter Regier, in Palm Springs Tuesday.

“We are still reeling from the news,” says Drew Dennis, executive director of Out On Screen, Vancouver’s queer film and video festival. Holtzman was the director of operations and human resources for the organization.

“David was an incredibly gifted man, an inspiring community leader and a bright light for many of us – he was a wise soul who lived his values. I learned a lot from David during the time that we worked together, about life, and about community. Vancouver has lost a true champion for our community. He will be missed.”

For the past 25 years, Holtzman worked in the “social-profit” sector. For five years, he served as executive director of A Loving Spoonful, a nonprofit that feeds and supports people living with AIDS. While he was studying at Royal Roads from 2001 to 2003, he was executive director of Leadership Vancouver, a position he held for nearly five years.

“He was very passionate about leadership,” McKenzie notes. “He had leadership in his blood.”

Holtzman was also passionate about community development.

“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. That’s the challenge – and the reward.”

In addition to advocating for the rights of others, Holtzman was in the midst of fighting for his own rights. He and Regier have been making headlines since June 2010, when they were allegedly the victims of a hate crime when they were attacked and subjected to homophobic slurs outside their Vancouver condo. Their injuries sent them to hospital and two brothers were arrested and charged. The case went to trial last month and Holtzman and Regier testified against their alleged attackers. The trial is set to resume in October.

Despite the attack, Holtzman remained positive and passionate about his community.

“I feel humbled and very fortunate to live in the best country in the world and most liveable city,” he 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. What legacy do we want to leave for our children and their children?”