Victor Holliday, a longtime producer of on-air fundraising for NPR, died in his Baltimore home Feb. 4. The cause of death has not been confirmed, though family members said they believe Holliday died of a massive heart attack. He was 61.
Known for wearing dapper ensembles accented with his signature fedora, Holliday was a force of fashion, source of relentless positivity and spiritual lodestar to his NPR colleagues. In 2012, he told All Things Considered host Michel Martin that he modeled his fashion sense and professionalism after his father, who also loved hats. Holliday first honed his sharp style at the age of five, when he received his first trenchcoat and top hat.
“It was an early training ground for how to comport myself in the world,” Holliday told Martin. “Because, as you present yourself seriously, people tend to take you seriously and so, when I think back on the civil rights movement and marvelous examples like Martin Luther King, who had a suit and a tie and a crisp, white shirt on as he was leading the struggle for civil rights, and you see people of color just dressed so well, you wanted to bring your best self forward and be in appearance like you were taking care of business, because they certainly were.”
Like his well-paired outfits, Holliday combined a playful effervescence with a fierce work ethic. After graduating from Howard University, Holliday began interning at NPR in 1983, according to a note to staff by SVP for News and Editorial Director Nancy Barnes. He began his career conducting tours and eventually rose to the position of associate producer of online fundraising, with administrative and production stints at All Things Considered, according to his longtime colleague and close friend Jean Durr. Holliday also worked as an assistant producer for performance programming, Durr said.
His acute writing skills and compassionate presence made his job writing promotions easy, according to Sarah Mobley Smith, who met Holliday in 1991 while working as an editorial assistant at Morning Edition.
“He was really good at crafting promos for people like Bob Edwards, Steve Inskeep and Renée Montagne,” Smith said. “He just got along with everyone, so he was good at getting people to do the things he needed to do. I think a lot of people will remember him for his work ethic, but just his attitude made a difference — it could change a situation.”
Holliday’s positive attitude lit up every room he graced, Durr said. He started a Black History Month event at NPR that began as a brown-bag lunch with half a dozen Black NPR colleagues discussing figures like Carter G. Woodson. It evolved into a luncheon filled with music, dance and poetry that everyone at the station looked forward to, Durr said.
“When Victor walked into the room, the whole room just lit up,” said Durr, who met Holliday while working in NPR’s human resource division. “He’ll be remembered for his smile, the way he made you feel, no matter how down you were. He was such an eloquent speaker and such a beacon of light and love. You just couldn’t help but be a part of his life.”
Holliday’s faith guided him through life and made him a spiritual counselor to friends and family. After his parents died, he would give advice to his younger brother, David Holliday. He also nursed his brother back to health five years ago after he underwent surgery that threatened his ability to walk.
“He was there to let me know that there were going to be better days,” David Holliday said. “He just helped me in every aspect of my life. … He was my right hand, and as a big brother, he was my strength when I was weak.”
Claudette Haberman, who met Holliday while working at NPR in 1992 and would often ride the train home with him from NPR’s offices to Baltimore, called him her “spiritual counselor.” The two shared a love of gardening, and Holliday’s backyard burst with tomatoes and kale that he would whip up into beautiful salads for guests. Haberman and Holliday would spend hours hanging out at his colorful home, which he called “the ashram.” He advised her on a dress for the Jamaican Independence Ball, and Haberman has kept several outfits that he chose.
After taking a buyout from NPR in 2013, Holliday worked on fundraising at WEAA in Baltimore, where Haberman hosted a show. Holliday often took to the mic during fundraising campaigns and expressed his love for the programming, Haberman said.
“He was just gifted, the way he would frame his sentences and his words — no one does it like Victor,” she said. “When Victor walked in a room, the energy shifted. So when he entered the studio and we were on the air together, he just [brought] a different kind of energy and excitement.”
Holliday was born July 4, 1960, in Baltimore, the eldest of three siblings. Whether he was line dancing at a holiday party, singing in NPR’s choir, cheering up a coworker after a show or entertaining guests in his bountiful garden, Holliday demonstrated a zeal for life that reflected the vigorous Pentecostal faith in which he grew up.
“It’s very high-spirited, and that’s how Victor was,” David Holliday said of their faith. “He would let us know [that] while we’re here, we’re here to do good work, and he would say to me he’d welcome the day when he would make the transition. So that does give me some comfort today, to know that my brother is home.”
Holliday graduated from Northwestern High School in three years, a precedent that his sister Tonita Anderson followed.
“He was a leader, and he always led the way,” Anderson said. “He was always an A student. He would do everything for us to make sure we were the best we could be.”
Funeral arrangements have not been made, but the Holliday family plans to share details once they have been finalized.