Obituary — Ronald Holloway

Ronald Holloway (1909-2003)


Ronald Holloway was born in England in 1909, came to New Zealand as a child, and died in an Auckland nursing home on 30 October 2003.

There can be few non-writers in New Zealand who had so many prominent literary friends and associates. Ron’s name figures in the index of a surprising number of literary biographies, and with good reason. He was of an age to be part of the 1930s and 40s generation. While Mason, Fairburn, Curnow and Robin Hyde were doing their literary thing in Auckland, Ron was establishing himself as an independent printer. For years he supported himself and his growing family by journeyman-jobbing on daily newspapers. But after he left the Unicorn Press, his real achievement was the setting up of the Griffin Press. Here nearly all of Roderick Finlayson’s work was originally published, and a large number of original volumes of verse besides, all hand-set by Ron. He was a craftsman and a strong advocate of the aesthetic appeal of good typeface. He named one of his daughters after a typeface invented by the English craft printer Eric Gill – Felicity. He was restrained by his wife Kay from naming another of his daughters after another Gill typeface – Perpetua. Gill was one of Ron’s heroes, although he properly deplored the perverse side of Gill’s life that was revealed in Fiona McCarthy’s recent biography.

Fittingly, when Ron became too old to press his own treadle or pull his own sheets, Peter Simpson and Alan Loney took some of his equipment as the basis for the Holloway Press at Auckland University’s Tamaki campus.

Living in a house just down the rise from the Holloways’ Panmure home, I was Ron’s next-door neighbour for the first 22 years of my life, and a fairly regular visitor thereafter. In my childhood, the bang-thump bang-thump of Ron’s press, then set up in an old army shed a few yards from my bedroom, was as comforting a sound in the night as a lullaby. Early on, I picked up Ron’s love of cats and enjoyed the company of the various moggies that followed him about and regularly requisitioned his lap. Only later did I appreciate the rare literary anecdotes. Folklore about Baxter, in his heavy-boozing phase, riding back and forth on the Devonport ferry till the flagon was empty. The comment, accompanied by a sigh – “Ah, yes, Sarge could be difficult” – as he recalled Frank Sargeson throwing a foul-mouthed tantrum. An amused parody of D’Arcy Cresswell (whom Curnow pompously dismissed as “a mere rhymster”). I heard all this from Ron over the years, but come to think of it, that’s about as much as I did hear. Ron could be remarkably frank to me, 43 years his junior, about his own personal adventures as a young man. But he was not a gossip. Literary researchers, armed with cassette recorders, went away disappointed when Ron refused to make his life a commodity and wisely failed to answer their questions. The world was thus spared more than one redundant thesis.

Perhaps there was something a little impractical or unworldly about Ron. At least the forthright Kay often thought so, as she took in hand the raising of their eight children. She suspected that a too-trusting Ron would be financially ruined by his feckless sometime-partner Bob Lowry. The day Lowry committed suicide, Ron told me, he came home to find that Kay had mysteriously disappeared across the road to St Patrick’s church. One of his children cheerfully informed him: “Bob Lowry’s just done himself in, and Mum’s gone to confession because of all the nasty things she said about him.”

Not that this stopped Ron from writing an elegant tribute to Lowry for Landfall. He loved, and quoted often, the Baxter poem that called Lowry “a stone volcanic god”, but he loathed the later poetry of Baxter. “Trash – complete trash” he said of Baxter’s “Ode to Auckland” (“Auckland you great arse-hole” etc) before turning back to the Georgian and late Romantic poetry that was more his style.

Both Ron and Kay were converts to Catholicism. He’d followed an odd path from his Anglican upbringing, including all of about five minutes in the Communist Party. But the tradition and the Latin and the ritual attracted him. Kay was a left-wing, Labour-voting, Jacques-Maritain-Graham-Greene-Dorothy-Day sort of Catholic. Ron was more the Evelyn-Waugh-Shane-Leslie-Ronnie-Knox variety, with a side interest in heraldry. Naturally he regretted the ruination of the church since the Second Vatican Council, and insisted his funeral be conducted with Latin.

Ron and Kay were both ardent royalists, but Ron was remarkably tolerant when I sounded off on the virtues of republicanism. It was the tolerance, the craftsmanship, the quietly subversive wit and the accumulated wisdom that won him so many friends. His devoted younger sister Anne, and his five surviving children, are only a few of the people who are already missing him.

Nicholas Reid 



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