Obituary: Dorothy Holley / Poet who published four books late in life

May 15, 1923 - June 6, 2010

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Dorothy Holley, who became well known in local poetry circles in her 80s when she published four books in five years, often used gardening and writing as a creative expression and an emotional outlet.

"She wrote about the cycles of life and because she was quite elderly when she wrote a lot of her recent poetry, she wrote about facing death," said her daughter, Beth Piraino of Squirrel Hill. "Death is a part of the life cycle and that was a common theme in her work."

Mrs. Holley always wanted to pursue writing, but with five children and then grandchildren, she never found the time. But after a divorce following 33 years of marriage, she finally carried out her lifelong dream and became quite prolific.

In the past five years, she published four volumes of poetry: "A Whole Quart Jar," "The Garden Journals," "Late Day Thoughts" and "Dream Quartet."

"It's satisfying to create something just like in the garden. We're meant to create," she wrote in an article published in 2006.

Mrs. Holley, 87, of Squirrel Hill, died at UPMC Presbyterian hospital on Sunday of complications from a broken hip.

She grew up during the Depression on a small farm in Pisgah, Ohio. She married Carl Holley in 1942 and graduated from Ohio University four years later. In 1957, she and her husband moved to Shaler and raised their family there.

Mr. Holley worked as an engineer at Dravo Corp. while Mrs. Holley stayed at home with the children.

She and Mr. Holley divorced in 1975. She moved to a small house in Squirrel Hill six years later to be closer with her daughter, Dr. Piraino.

To cope with the divorce, she took up gardening, photography and writing, Dr. Piraino said.

Jan Beatty, director of Madwomen in the Attic, a series of writing workshops for women at Carlow University, was a mentor to Mrs. Holley and helped her develop her writing skills. She also joined the Pittsburgh Poetry Society.

"She gives older people a good name," said Ms. Beatty, who added that Mrs. Holley became an important part of Madwomen in the Attic. "She was a strong, independent woman and had a positive outlook on life. She was never cranky or crabby, but she was real and genuine. ... She was the kind of person who would make you lunch if you stopped by her house."

Although Mrs. Holley was in her 80s and struggled from several illnesses, she continued to be active in the Pittsburgh community. She held readings at her house, attended church regularly, wrote poetry and spent many days in her garden.

"People knew her because she wore the wildest hats and bright socks ... she was colorful in every way," Mrs. Beatty said.

In addition to Dr. Piraino, Mrs. Holley is survived by daughters, Carol Elder of Danbury, Conn.; June Holley of Athens, Ohio; and Louise Callihan of Gig Harbor, Wash.; a son, Charles Holley of Minneapolis; seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A service will be held at 6 p.m. Friday in Calvary Episcopal Church, Shadyside. Contributions can be sent to the Madwomen in the Attic Fund at Carlow University, 3333 Fifth Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213.


Sonya Chun: schun@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1944.


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