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Tributes paid to University of Cambridge stalwart Tim Holt following his death at 51

By Paul Brackley

Tim Holt, former head of communications at the University of Cambridge, who died at the age of 51
Tim Holt, former head of communications at the University of Cambridge, who died at the age of 51

Married father was the former university head of communications and a keen member of rowing community.

Tim Holt attended Jesus College, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Tim Holt attended Jesus College, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Warm tributes have been paid to Tim Holt, the former head of communications at the University of Cambridge, who has died at 51.

A married father who was a keen member of the rowing community, Tim collapsed at home and paramedics were unable to save him.

Following news of his sudden death on October 23, friends and colleagues flooded the Cambridge Independent with tributes to his talent, kindness and affection for the city.

Stephen Jolly, former director of external affairs and communications at the university, said: “He was an enormously talented person.

“It was very clear he had a huge amount of energy and commitment to the university, and he the most charming, gentle, kindly man.

“He was one of nature’s real gentleman. He rose up the ranks over the eight years I was there and was more and more involved with the colleges. The people around Tim saw he was a leader. For the last four years of my tenure at Cambridge, he became my deputy.

“Tim became, particularly in relation to the colleges, the face of the university. He was hugely respected and loved and a charming man.”

Tim was originally from Sevenoaks in Kent, and attended Sevenoaks School before reading classics at Jesus College, Cambridge.

Tim was a keen member of the rowing community
Tim was a keen member of the rowing community

Professor Ian White, master of Jesus College, said: “Tim had great integrity, in addition to wisdom and ability. His advice was always of the highest quality, and his love of the college following from his time studying here was very clear. He will be sorely missed.”

From 1990-2000, he was marketing and press manager in leisure services at Cambridge City Council, before moving on to be communications manager at Adhoc Publishing.

He worked as fundraising and communications manager at Wood Green Animal Shelters from 2001-03, before joining the university, where he spent 12 years in communications roles. He left about a year ago and was recently seeking a new role in the city.

Stuart Roberts, deputy head of research communications at the university, said: “Tim really did hold this entire office together when I first joined Cambridge.

“I don’t know anyone who knew more about the university than him or anyone so equally at home either escorting the vice chancellors on their many trips to India, dealing with the protocol and rigmarole around royal visits from the Queen and the many Prince Philip visits, organising a topping-out ceremony or fixing the office shredder.

“Tim couldn’t have been more proud to be head of communications at Cambridge and I really loved his boyish enthusiasm for whatever each day brought him.”

Tim leaves a wife, Helen, daughters Florence and Nancy, and son Peter.

As a cox with the Champion of the Thames Rowing Club, his loss will be felt keenly in the rowing community.

Dr Jonathan Nicholls, former registrary of the university, added: “Tim was a very dedicated, skilful, and resourceful head of communications at a time when that function was still something of a novelty for the university. He was always immensely loyal and helpful, providing pragmatic and measured advice. It’s easy to forget how far the university has come in 10 years and Tim should be credited with his significant part in that. Typically, he was best when we needed to counter bad news. He will be much missed within the Cambridge community.”

Former colleague Suzan Dalzell said: “Tim was a terrific mentor and his passion for Cambridge was contagious. He inspired his colleagues with his intellect, his kindness, his work ethic and his dogged determination to ensure the university was presented to the world in the best possible light.”

Tim’s funeral will be held on Monday November 13 at 2.15pm in the West Chapel at Cambridge Crematorium on Madingley Road, and then friends and family will be sharing their memories of him at The Plough in Fen Ditton.

More tributes to Tim - a ‘warm, compassionate and genuine’ man

Tom Kirk, head of communications at St John’s College:

“Tim had an exhaustive knowledge of how the university worked, where its various departments, offices and centres could be found and – in particular – who everyone was. That meant that his guidance and advice were in demand across the university but also, frequently, among his own colleagues.

“It also meant that even before he became head of communications, he shouldered a significant amount of responsibility for ensuring that people understood Cambridge’s many contributions to society, or its position on whatever the ‘big’ issues of the day happened to be.

“In the office, he almost perpetually appeared to be attempting to do 17 different things at once. What motivated him throughout was his sense of both pride and loyalty towards Cambridge. Having the chance to represent the university defined him; he thrived on opportunities to welcome visitors from other countries, or on helping to undertake ambassadorial duties in places like India and the US.

“He threw himself into key dates in the life of the wider city with similar resolve – faithfully blocking out the Folk Festival in his calendar, manning events at the Science Festival, or running Chariots of Fire. I think that being ‘at Cambridge’, in every sense, gave Tim a sense of purpose and identity – he was utterly committed to both the university and city because he felt such a deep sense of belonging within them.”

Paul Mylrea, director of communications at the University of Cambridge:

“Tim held the fort briefly as acting director until I arrived and handed over to me, returning to his role as head of communications.

“I remain deeply grateful to Tim for all his kindness, and the insight he showed in helping me navigate Cambridge when I arrived. He was always a fount of knowledge, with an encyclopaedic memory for what had gone before. I am also deeply grateful to Tim for the astonishing team he built, which still remembers him with deep affection. My heart goes out to his family and children.”

Matthew Moss, director of external relations and development at Homerton College:

“Tim had as much of an affection for the town as for the university, and was very grounded. He was authentic and genuine, and was slow to claim credit for his many big achievements.

“He managed media for some of the university’s most visible events, not to mention the fast tempo of public interest around the 800th anniversary celebrations. His was the mobile phone that would ring in times of crisis. We’ll miss him greatly.”

Paul Holland, communications manager at the university:

“He was warm, compassionate and one of the most genuine people I knew. He is missed hugely by those who benefited from his knowledge, integrity, wisdom and humour.

“We first met when I was a journalist writing stories about the university. Tim could be trusted to give guidance – and he’d also tell you, with a mischievous tone in his voice, when he thought your story was nonsense.”

Kate Carreno, assistant director the Fitzwilliam Museum: “Tim was a great colleague and a great guy, and I am eternally grateful for the help and support he gave the museum, and to me personally, through some interesting and potentially challenging stories. These were made much less challenging – and frankly, more fun – to deal with, thanks to his calm presence, professional input and willingness to be on the PR front line with us and for us.”


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