Gilbert L. Holmes, Oct. 24, 1935 - June 24, 2015
July 15, 2015
We are extremely sad to acknowledge the passing of our colleague, friend and former executive director, Gilbert L. Holmes.
Gil faithfully served the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana as a member of its Board of Directors, a mentor to his colleagues and as its executive director from 2008 to 2012. Many who currently serve on the Board say that Gil came to the ACLU of Indiana in a moment of great need, so the organization could continue its defense of the liberties and rights of all the people in Indiana. He was an extraordinary leader who pursued the goals of equality, justice and fairness before the law, both in his work and in his personal life. He will be sadly missed at the ACLU and by all who knew him.
A memorial service will take place in Indianapolis, at 3 p.m. on July 24, 2015 at the Indiana War Memorial Pershing Auditorium. At a yet-to-be-assigned date, Gil will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery during a ceremony in which he will be granted full military honors. The family has requested that memorial contributions may be made to the ACLU of Indiana or to The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. To donate to the ACLU of Indiana in memory of Gil Holmes, please click here.
I had the privilege of knowing Gil only for the last two decades of his life. He was a student in one of my courses at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law; I learned much more from him than he from me. I served with him at the ACLU (when we both were board members and then when he was Executive Director/CEO) and at the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana (where we both were board members). After he received his J.D. from the law school, he received a Public Interest Law Award from the Equal Justice Works chapter there, and was named a Distinguished Alumnus of the law school. He had been named a Sagamore of the Wabash in 1996.
Gil served in the U.S. Army from 1961 to 1981, participating in two Tet Offensives and receiving, among other awards, a Bronze Star, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, a Distinguished Service Medal, and an Air Medal. He left the service as a Major. While in the Army, he earned his B.S. degree from Southern Illinois University (1975) and an M.S. from the University of Southern California (1978).
Among the positions Gil held after 1981 are these:
In addition to executing the responsibilities of these demanding jobs, Gil used these years to secure his J.D., become a certified mediator, and engage in private enterprises of various kinds. He served on numerous nonprofit boards (in addition to the ACLU and the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana) -- the Vonnegut Museum and Library, the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, and the Central Indiana Regional Transit Authority.
I counted Gil and Karen treasured friends. I will miss him keenly.
Meeting in Friendly Skies
One late afternoon some 20 years ago, I decided to go visit my sister in LA. I made a last minute reservation with United, ran home, packed a bag, and made it to the airport about 2-3 minutes after they had closed the jetway. I went to the terminal window in front of the cockpit and jumped up and down. The captain sent somebody to open the jetway and let me in. That would not happen these days, but I did it with some frequency those days.
I got inside the plane and took my seat. I do not recall my row number, but it was seat D. There was nobody in E, and there was this guy in F. We were headed to Denver.
Those days, airlines had full food service on even the shortest flights. As soon as the flight attendants did their first round of service and napkins became available, I struck up a conversation with the guy in F. That was rather my routine. I used napkins to sign up people for ACLU and would do it anywhere. It was known as Hamid's napkin application. I signed up people in bars, restaurants, anywhere. Most often the only writing paper available was either a napkin or a piece of paper from the cash register.
At any rate, I started talking to my plane neighbor. He was so pleasant. And, later I learned he was one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever known. He was Gil Holmes.
The conversation got to our jobs. I asked him whether he knew ACLU. He said, "Yeah. You guys sued me." He was referring to the fact that when he was BMV Commissioner, we sued him. I told him that we are not bad people and, actually, are very good people. He agreed. I then suggested that he should join the ACLU and put a napkin in front of him to sign up. He gave me his business card. We got to Denver and parted ways. He went to his destination, and I took my connection to LA.
A few days after I got back to Indy, I actually signed him up. And a few years later, I invited him to join the ACLU of Indiana (then ICLU) Board. He graciously accepted. A decade plus later, when the organization needed him, he became our executive director.
When he was the president of IndyGo, I used to harass him all the time and ask for an ICLU bus. He never told me that he regretted his flight to Denver .
Needless to say, over the last 20 years, Gil and I became good friends. He was superbly committed, driven, compassionate, and straight forward. The last time I saw him, he was headed to somewhere warm, Arizona. Little did I know that would be the last.
RIP Gil. I will miss you dearly.
Gil Holmes could smile. Gil invited dialogue and engagement, and his smile reinforced that invitation. His smile also had a hint of conspiracy. He was a conspirator— for justice. Gil pursued justice on many fronts and for all segments of society.
I admired Gil's many accomplishments and enjoyed his stories about testing boundaries, his adventures in jazz music and of trips to Mexico. One seldom meets people who decide to go to law school at an age where many choose to retire. And then he thickened the plot by opting to commute between Fort Wayne and Indianapolis to attend classes!
Filmed in Gil's hometown of Sparta, Illinois, the movie "In the Heat of the Night" portrayed a cool, calm Virgil Tibbs—played by Sydney Poitier—driven by the desire for justice. How co-incidental was it that Gil and a fictional character could share the same motivation? It sounds like collusion to me, and I am happy to have been part of it.