Jim Holt, a key figure and a force in Delta’s arts and politics communities, passed away earlier this month at the age of 67.
Jim was known not only as the grill master for a number of community events in Delta, but also one of its most prolific political operators, having worked for the campaigns of Mayor George Harvie, former mayor/now Coun. Lois Jackson, former councillor/now Delta South MLA Ian Paton and former Delta North MLA Scott Hamilton.
“The community was always very important to him,” June Bergen-Holt, his wife of 38 years, told the Reporter.
What brought the couple from Edmonton to Delta in 1996 was Jim’s work in market research for the newspaper business, though he also had stints as a roadie and band manager in the 1970s, and had been an entertainment columnist in Saskatoon.
As a “demographic cartographer,” June said, her husband was always trying to find out what people in the Lower Mainland liked and how they behaved.
“He read constantly,” June said, adding that Jim had read the Bible three times by the time he was 11 years old. “His quest for knowledge never ending.”
As a big supporter of the arts and a member of the Delta Arts Council when it was still around, Jim always tried to tend “the sacred fire” burning within artists, which he believed makes a community better for everyone living in it.
“Life is better with art, and dance and music,” June said about his mantra.
“It makes a healthy and vibrant community and he always felt that we needed to gather people and share and find joy. That’s the way he lived his life. It was always hard to separate his passions because it always came down to sharing, people and community. “
Patti McGregor, a fixture of the local arts scene who organizes the long-running open mic night in North Delta, knew Jim from her days as the cultural coordinator of the Delta Arts Council based at the Tsawwassen Arts Centre, and remembers him as “upbeat, productive, professional and intense.”
She said Jim used his contacts in the music business to hire blues and jazz artists for concerts at the old Firehall Centre for the Arts on 84th Avenue, and kept the crowds fed as the chef behind the grill at arts events in North Delta.
“There he would be with his barbecue and he was making sliders or whatever else,” McGregor said. “And he brought in to the Firehall Centre for the Arts an incredible amount of high-class entertainment. He would sell out.”
She called his death a loss to the arts community, especially for his drive to deliver on his promises.
“When he said he would do things, he would,” McGregor said. “Now that we have a new arts centre, I am sure he would have had a hand in helping to put some performances in place. He would have had good suggestions. So that definitely left a hole.”
In his political work, Jim was deeply involved at all three levels of government. He was the campaign manager for Harpreet Singh when he ran in the 2015 federal election for the Newton-North Delta riding, and was involved in the campaign of former Delta mayor Lois Jackson. More recently, he was part of the team for Mayor George Harvie’s successful campaign in October 2018 and Delta South MLA Ian Paton’s in May 2017.
When he wasn’t working in local politics, Jim loved to sail in Mud Bay. Over the last few years, he also took to barbecuing and smoking meats — with a preference for pulled pork, as well as jerk chicken — which he shared with the North Delta community.
“He supplied pulled pork for Tour de Delta and contributed to the firemen’s barbecue here in North Delta,” June said. “And he would make the most amazing jerk seasoning.”
In 2000, Jim’s kidneys failed and he went on dialysis for three years while awaiting a transplant. He would get another 16 years with one kidney, but June said the wear and tear caused by his illness and the medication he had to take to avoid rejection of the transplant took a toll on his body.
“It’s hard to fight off any kind of infection when you have a suppressed immune system,” she explained. “So [he had] a lot of colds and flus, and several different infections he was in the hospital for. It’s hard to say exactly how he died. He died because there were just too many things.”
She said in his later years, Jim also mentored people who were on dialysis (which became another passion of his) and became a passionate advocate for organ donation.
“It’s a big life-changer,” June said about the impact of having to wait for a transplant.
“He just had a way of lifting people up and giving them hope, and that’s the biggest thing when you’re going through a grave illnesses.”
There will be a celebration of life for Jim Holt at the North Delta Recreation Centre on Sunday, April 7, at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, his family asks people who want to honour Jim to consider registering for organ donation.