By Henrik Krogius
“He made Brooklyn feel alive,” my wife Elaine said soon after we had learned with finality on Thursday that we would never more hear Dennis Holt’s voice. The early hope that he might yet recover from the dreadful fall he suffered on May 14 had been giving way to deep gloom as it became clear that his cognitive brain function was irreversibly gone.
For 15 years or more, Dennis and I had been in almost daily contact, even calling each other on weekends. Mostly he talked and I listened, putting in questions here and there. His Midwestern geniality combined with a touch of Southern courtliness and wide store of historical and political lore, especially as regards Brooklyn affairs, made him an invaluable guide and mentor. From the easy, optimistic manner he brought to matters in dispute one could well understand why he had been a champion debater at the University of Alabama. (He was a rabid Alabama football fan, while, having come to Brooklyn too late for the Dodgers, he was somewhat to my dismay a Yankees fan.)
Only days after his accident word came that a compromise could make it possible for the St. Ann’s Warehouse theater company to restore and occupy the roofless Tobacco Warehouse beneath Brooklyn Bridge for its productions — a prospect Dennis had avidly championed — and I would so have wanted to share the happy outcome with him. He was beyond responding to that news. On that and so many other issues he will not be there to see how the developments he had followed closely are turning out.
Dennis was particularly well versed in what was happening in Downtown Brooklyn and its surrounding, largely brownstone neighborhoods, but as a liaison for Representative Stephen Solarz he had spent time in neighborhoods both within and outside the congressman’s district. He was conversant not only with neighborhoods from Brooklyn Heights east to Prospect Heights, or from DUMBO south to Gowanus, but he also kept a close eye on Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Coney Island — centers of migration and change.
For the most part Dennis was not what in the news business is known as a “shoe leather reporter” — one who visits scenes and interviews people on the spot — although he had walked through wide swaths of Brooklyn and had an impressive grasp of the borough’s street geography. Rather, much of what he reported came from his reading and from poring through what most people would consider boring tables and documents to find significant information. He also cultivated and won the trust of well-placed background sources. Dennis was a news and political junkie. After writing his report or column early in the day, he would sit at a bar for lunch with a stack of newspapers and magazines at his side. Not that he read every word, but he combed them all for those particular nuggets whose meaning he could then interpret further and explain.
Curiously, for all his reading and articulateness, Dennis was not a very felicitous writer. Where, in talking, he could make his meaning clear through emphasis and repetition, or in response to questions, in writing he used a surprisingly limited vocabulary and often muddled his grammar. He had never received a good grounding in syntax, he was weak on things like the antecedents of pronouns and the agreement of subject and predicate. I often had to puzzle out what he was trying to say and spent a good deal of time reaching for the more precise word and the better arranged sentence. Dennis took this editing in good grace; he never objected to changes I made — and, indeed, I’m not sure if he ever reread a piece once he had written it.
The development of what he called the new Brooklyn exhilarated Dennis. Though not uncritical — he wrote often about mounting traffic congestion and the need for more coordinated planning — he saw a regenerated borough once again claiming the nation’s spotlight in a positive way. His untimely demise is a great loss for Brooklyn, and for me it is an immense personal loss. Dennis made working for this newspaper fun, a weekly adventure in discovery. A once heavy smoker who had stopped to save his health, Dennis still relished a Ketel One with his lunch. The many occasions we shared lunchtime conversations at the Heights Café, the Caffe Buon Gusto, or, more recently, at the Heights Wine Bar on the corner of Henry and Cranberry, live in memory. Here’s to you, Dennis!
Henrik Krogius is editor of the Brooklyn Heights Press & Cobble Hill News