Upon her death in September 2017, Mabel Hancock Holt left a bequest of approximately $2 million to the University of the South, a gift that, because of her many contributions to church life, will be designated for the School of Theology building project. She was an accomplished and generous woman who was an educator, a scientist, a photographer, and a musician. She was known for her love of books and life-long learning, her wonderful sense of humor, and her strong faith. Her participation in Education for Ministry (EfM) inspired her gift to the University.
Holt grew up in Martinsville, Virginia, and completed a two-year degree at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. She then returned to Virginia and completed an undergraduate degree at what is now James Madison University. She was a popular and active member of the Tri-Sigma Sorority and was elected president of her senior class.
After college, Holt worked at Yale University in charge of the chemistry and photography labs in the zoology department, but after two years, she returned to Virginia. There she attended every session of a life-changing, two-week seminar at a local Episcopal church at which a number of well-known theologians spoke. She was especially interested in hearing discussion of the scripture “Come now, let us reason together, sayeth the Lord ….” It was to be key in helping her to resolve her issues in blending her beliefs in science and religion. Following that study, she earned a second undergraduate degree in religion.
Holt made scores of friends throughout her life wherever she played, studied, or worked. People who knew her delighted in her finely tuned sense of the ridiculous, which could border on hilarity. She was a cause of joy wherever she went.
Continuing to explore her faith, Mabel graduated from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education with a master’s degree in English Bible in 1957. Shortly afterwards she completed coursework at Southern Baptist Seminary and accepted a position as circulation librarian with Union Theological Seminary. That job inspired her to return to school to earn a master’s degree in Library Science at Drexel University, specializing in theology. After earning the MSLS in 1966, she took a position at the Richmond Public Library as head of the reference department. She was regarded there as having a scholar’s knowledge in her chosen field of theology. After thoughtful soul-searching and discussion with her childhood Baptist pastor, Holt changed her church membership, with her pastor’s blessing, to The Episcopal Church In 1968.
In 1970 Holt moved to the Chester branch of the Chesterfield County Public Library (CPPL), initially as a branch librarian. She was interviewed during that time and was quoted as saying, “I really think ... of libraries as being almost living things.”
Holt retired in 1988 as coordinator of adult services and head of the reference department of CCPL’s Central Library. She then volunteered to establish a library, from scratch, at Richmond Hill, an ecumenical retreat in Richmond, Virginia. During the same period, she also volunteered at the Virginia Historical Society. In 1991, Mabel moved to The Colonnades retirement community in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she kept an active social life for many years, including completing the four years of study in Education for Ministry. She continued to enjoy singing, scheduled activities and especially being outside on walks and drives in the countryside until the end of her life.