Amherst Magazine

Irving B. Holley (Bill) '40

Deceased August 12, 2013

View alumni profile (log in required)
Read obituary
50th Reunion book entry


In Memory

Irving Holley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at Duke University and major general, U.S. Air Forces (Ret.), died Aug. 12, 2013. We were just recently notified of his passing.

Irv was a native of Torrington, Conn. He graduated cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Amherst. At Amherst he participated in soccer, Pre Law Club and Speaker’s Club, and was a member of Phi Delta Theta.

Pearl Harbor interrupted his Ph.D. studies at Yale. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, was trained as an aerial gunner and was commissioned at the Officer Candidate School. After five years of active duty, he remained in the U.S. Air Force Reserves until retirement in 1981 with the rank of major general. In the interim of 1947, he completed his Ph.D. at Yale and was awarded the Townsend Prize for best dissertation. Duke welcomed him to teach American history, and he taught there until he was 92, making him the oldest and longest serving professor in Duke’s history. He served as a visiting professor at West Point, other colleges and the Pentagon. He authored eight books, most notably, Ideas and Weapons, still in print today. In 2007 he was the first recipient of an award named in his honor by the Air Force to individuals who have “sustained significant contributions to the documentation of Air Forces’ history during a lifetime of service.”

He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Janet Carlson Holley, three daughters, eight grandchildren and two great-grandsons.

Larry Griesemer ’40

50th Reunion

40 Irving Holley.jpgI spent the 1938 and 1939 summers at Amherst working as the college messenger and guide, a rewarding experience for many reasons. The pay was low but time to read widely and time to enhance my musical knowledge has meant much to me for the rest of my life. An Amherst fellowship financed me for two years of graduate school at Yale, then, after Pearl Harbor, enlisted in the Army and to my surprise became an aerial gunner. Commissioned thru OCS, I ran a gunnery school at a B-24 training center. I ended the war as a captain and a faculty member in the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. In 1947 I left the service to join the history faculty at Duke University where I have spent 42 happy years. I started out working in 17th Century Puritan theology in colonial New England, but my wartime career diverted me into military studies, especially the impact of technology on military thought. Although I retired from the Air Force Reserve in 1981 as a major general, both the Army and the Air Force continue to invite me back to teach and do consulting in the various professional schools and war colleges.

I married Janet Carlson, a strikingly beautiful member of the Smith class of 1941. We had three fine daughters, all now married. One is a lobbyist, one is an attorney, and one is an architect All three married wonderful boys. (Why did we worry so much when they were teenagers?) My wife’s father, an admiral, retired to Little Compton, R.I., where he ran a dairy farm, an ideal setting for our children.

If my career as a professor has been unspectacular, it has been immensely satisfying. Because Duke University has notably high admission standards, my students have been, on the whole, excellent, making my days as a professor sheer delight. I also enjoyed a year as a visiting professor at West Point and another year as visiting professor at the National Defense University in Washington. Of the many young officers who have studied with me at Duke (the services send them to us because of our strong military history specialty), no less than seven have risen to flag rank; one is currently Superintendent at the Military Academy, and another is Dean there. My aim has been to try to "tame" the armed forces which serve a democracy by sending to them officers who are more humane, more restrained, better educated, more responsible and better equipped intellectually to cope with the challenges that confront the military.

At age 70 I'm still working a 16 hour day with pleasure. One of40 Irving Holley 2.jpg the blessings conferred by an Amherst education was the discovery that if you enjoy your work, it becomes play. I entered the teaching profession hoping to be useful but fully expecting a life of genteel poverty; instead it has proved to be a decidedly enriching adventure.

 

Quick Links

Post Your Remembrance

To post a remembrance for an individual, click on "Add Comment."