Trustee recalled as tireless, passionate

Red Deer Public School District board trustee Gail Holland, one of the city’s most passionate advocates for special needs education and children’s literacy, has died at age 71.

Red Deer Public School District board trustee Gail Holland, one of the city’s most passionate advocates for special needs education and children’s literacy, has died at age 71.

Holland taught in the district for 24 years and was elected to the school board in 2001. She passed away Monday following a tragically short battle with lung cancer, said school board chair Bill Stuebing, who added “I am very proud to have been her friend.”

Stuebing remembered Holland as a “very forceful, very articulate” advocate for students in the district. While she valued education for all children, as the mother of a son with Down syndrome, she was a particularly strong supporter of special needs programs.

Stuebing gives Holland much of the credit for the development of the school district’s well-regarded special needs courses. “We also had some very, very good staff, but a very large part of it can be attributed to Gail. We became a lot better because of her advocacy.”

Holland, who in 1999 was recognized with a Friends of Education Award by the district, was also a strong proponent of early literacy programs that target very young children.

“This was a very strong interest of my own and I had an instant ally when Gail was on the board,” said Stuebing.

While Holland could work collaboratively with other board members, she could be very forceful when “in full sail,” lobbying for one of her causes, he recalled. “It led to some interesting debates . . . but there weren’t a lot of arguments. Most of the time, what she was saying made a lot of sense to us.”

Fellow board member and close friend Bev Manning said Holland taught her much about respect, compassion, integrity and understanding.

“Gail had a very unique way of looking at the needs of all of our students.

“She used her insight, which she gained throughout her years of experience in all aspects of her life — as a teacher, mother, grandmother and member of our community. She was an encouragement to all of us.”

Superintendent Don Falk, who first met Holland 23 years ago when her special needs son attended North School, where Falk was principal, said he always appreciated her devotion. “Gail was a visionary politician with a keen interest in education, but also brought a strong voice to many other areas of public policy.”

To remember Holland, the board of trustees has established the Gail Holland Memorial Award for Literacy, a series of awards for special needs students who demonstrate significant achievement in literacy. Tax-deductible contributions to the award can be made through The Foundation for Red Deer Public Schools, 4747 53rd St., Red Deer, T4N 2E6.

Her seat on the school board will remain vacant until the Oct. 18 election.

Saskatchewan-born Holland is survived by her three sons and their families. A celebration of her life will be held at the Gaetz Memorial United Church at 1 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 20.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com