So much of what I have always liked about Rush Holt was true – maybe even moreso – of his mother, Helen Holt. She died Sunday in Boca Raton of heart failure. She was 101, almost 102.
Back before I worked for him, Rush Holt used to tell a couple of stories about me at DFA events I’d organized. One was about when we first met him, pulling the car over on Main Street and leaping out at him with, “Are you a candidate?” when we spotted an unfamiliar blue suit with a clipboard. For him, the story was about how alert we were. For me, the best part was his answer, a sincere little speech about how he had the right to collect signatures out in public. From then on, Rush Holt’s earnestness was one of my favorite things.
I don’t come out as well in the other story, but that was fine with me. Because I was wrong, and he was right. Big-time. After Holt lost the 1996 CD12 primary (to Lambertville mayor Dave DelVecchio, who lost the general to GOP crooner Mike Pappas, who Rush beat in ’98), I was helping run a geographically-challenged leg race in LD23. Holt called me up to chat. We met on Route 31 in one of the Amwells, and talked in front of a WaWa that’s now a bank, leaning against my car sipping a coffee (me) and a tea (him). He told me he was going to run for Congress again, and win. I sighed. And told him he should really start lower on the food chain. Because after all, the House is shooting pretty high for somebody who’d never been elected ever.
I really didn’t know who I was dealing with. I knew he was smart, great on the issues, well-connected. I did not realize he had been preparing not just to win but to legislate, for years. And I did not realize he was Helen Holt’s son.
The first time I met her was at the 1998 Mercer County Dem Convention, in some glorious old lecture hall. I went upstairs to the gallery, sat next to an elegant woman in a fussy blue suit. We chatted; she didn’t tell me her name. Carl Mayer was expected to walk away with the nomination; he spoke like a firebrand and spent his own millions. He spoke first. As Rush Holt climbed to the lectern, she whispered, “Watch this.”