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OBITUARY: Samuel Holt

October 19, 2023
By Staff Report

Samuel Clark Oliver Holt, a former radio and television executive who made significant contributions to public broadcasting, died on October 11, 2023, in Washington, DC, at the age of 87.

Sam Holt was born January 18, 1936, in Birmingham, AL. He graduated from Episcopal High School in 1953 and Princeton University in 1958, after taking a year off to work for CBS News in New York. From there he went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar; he later remembered his three years there, at Christ Church college, as among the best of his life. Sam was in ROTC while at Princeton and after returning from England in 1961, he served in the Army as an artillery officer, stationed at Fort Sill, OK. He was honorably discharged as a captain in 1963 and remained in the Army Reserve until 1970.

After finishing his active military duty, he taught for a year at Southern Methodist University, then attended Harvard University for graduate work in history. While in Cambridge, where he was a protegé of WGBH director Hartford N. Gunn Jr., he was hired by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to direct their Public Radio Study; many of his recommendations from the 1969 report were implemented when National Public Radio was founded the following year.

In 1970, Sam married Jane Elliott Mansfield, whom he had met in Cambridge, and moved to Washington to work for the Public Broadcasting Service. As the first programming director at PBS, Sam helped create programs including “Masterpiece Theater” and “The MacNeil-Lehrer Report” (now “PBS Newshour”). In 1977 he joined NPR as Senior Vice President for Programming and helped launch programs such as “Morning Edition.” He directed NPR’s programming until 1982. The following year he won the Edward R. Murrow Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Samuel C.O. Holt papers, related to his years in public broadcasting, are housed in the archival collections at the University of Maryland.

After leaving NPR, Sam continued his career as a media and broadcasting consultant; over the years, he worked for HBO, Discovery and WorldSpace (the former satellite radio company). A devout Episcopalian, Sam served as an acolyte for many years and was a member of the vestry of Christ Church, Georgetown. In recent years, he attended services at St. David’s in Washington, DC, and St. Andrew’s in Boca Grande.

He cherished his memberships in the Cosmos Club and the Literary Society of Washington, as well as in “Leo,” a book club that has met regularly since he and a handful of other men founded it in 1975.

Sam and Jane raised three daughters in Washington, where they lived together until her death in 2005. His companion since that time has been Virginia “Vicki” Weil. They have divided their time between Washington and Boca Grande since 2018.

In addition to his partner Vicki, Sam is survived by his daughters, Louise Elliott Holt of New Haven, CT; Elizabeth Burwell Holt of Brooklyn, NY; and Katharine Mansfield Holt of Milton, MA; his sons-in-law William Darman and Reif Larsen; and five grandchildren: Jane, Emma, and Edith Darman, and Holt and Max Larsen.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Sam Holt’s memory to PBS: or to NPR:

A memorial service will be held at St. David’s in Washington on November 11 at 2 p.m.