For the benefit of Omaha, Dick Holland liked to spread his wealth. But he also enjoyed spreading his humor.
Friends chuckled when his 2014 Christmas card showed a photo of Dick at the Holland Performing Arts Center with two costumed Radio City Rockettes.
“Be jolly,” his card said, “not jealous!”
People enjoyed teasing him back. At a roast, retired businessman Jerry Hoberman compared Holland’s allegedly crumpled suits to the supposedly wrinkly ones of another wealthy Omahan: “Warren Buffett looks like he walked out of Gentleman’s Quarterly when he stands next to Dick.”
In the aftermath of Holland’s death at home Tuesday night, accolades rolled in about his civic contributions, including the major gift that he and his late wife, Mary, donated toward construction of the downtown Holland Center.
He also took on serious issues, putting his money where his heart was, trying to lessen poverty and improve education. But everyone also mentions his love of life and learning and his upbeat personality — even in his final days.
“Up until Saturday,” said attorney John Cavanaugh, who visited him, “we were joking and laughing, talking about Trump and Hillary.”
Like all of us, Holland also suffered. His only son, Richard D. Holland Jr., known as Dean, died in a traffic accident at 20. Dick Sr. had served in North Africa and Italy in World War II, and he knew of death.
At his home south of 80th and Pacific Streets in 2013, I sat with a few others as he spoke about his Army experience in Europe. After the war, he said, he acquired three bottles of Champagne but waited for the right moment to share them with fellow soldiers.
“I saved them until the Japanese surrendered,” he said, quipping: “That night was the only time I was a real hero.”
On a serious note, he said that whenever he went to Memorial Park in Omaha and read the names of the dead from Douglas County, he could picture many of them from his youth.
In 2011, Holland penned his autobiography, “Truth and Other Tall Tales,” through Legacy Preservation of Omaha. Mr. Holland’s opus runs just 111 pages, with photos, told in a folksy, whimsical way.
“If you’ve had the good fortune to earn a fortune,” he wrote, “share it generously with others.”
In 1961, Dick joined Buffett’s original investment partnership. It eventually made him hundreds of millions of dollars. Like Buffett, who still lives in the home he bought in 1958, Holland lived modestly. He resided in the home he purchased in 1957.
Three years ago, Dick was at home when he received a very noisy and public surprise. “It knocked me dead,” he told me. “I couldn’t believe it!”
At 4:30 p.m. on a Wednesday, he was asked to step out into his driveway. The band from his alma mater, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (formerly Omaha University), marched down the street, playing the school’s fight song.
It was an elaborate thank-you for his donation to UNO’s athletic complex, now called Baxter Arena. The UNO hockey team presented him a Mavericks jersey with “Holland” on the back.
Dick told of entering the university in 1939, mostly interested in girls and beer. Four and a half years of military service matured him, he said, and he returned to school in 1946 a different guy.
“When I told my mother I made the dean’s list,” he told the 150 or so assembled, “she almost fainted.”
On the morning after his death, UNO’s street-facing digital signs read: “Thank you for supporting our Maverick family, Mr. Holland.”
He became involved in Building Bright Futures and its successors: the Holland Children’s Institute, which focuses on research into poverty’s effects on education; and the Holland Children’s Movement, which focuses on changing public policy.
Cavanaugh, chief operating officer for those organizations, said Dick is “irreplaceable,” but the work will continue.
“We are extremely lucky to be able to carry out his vision,” Cavanaugh said. “We have a full agenda in the coming year.”
Holland enjoyed many younger friends — just about everyone was younger than Dick — including his “Saturday morning group,” Rick Dooling, Pat Drickey, Dr. Dan Shafer and Mike Hill.
At Dick’s birthday party this summer at the Holland Center, Oscar-winning film editor Hill faux-presented his Academy Award to him for persuasive acting — acting as if he were 20 years younger than his 95.
At the party, Dr. James Windle confirmed comments that the generous and compassionate Holland had a big heart: “I should know. I’m his cardiologist!”
In the end, Dick Holland’s heart gave out and he died, essentially, of old age. He had the good fortune to earn a fortune, but he put his money where his heart was.
He shared his fortune for the good of Omaha — whenever possible with a smile, a quip and hearty laughter.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1132, firstname.lastname@example.org