The “Mother of all Conferences” - Judith Perry Holst In Memoriam
Judy Holst’s death on March 20 was sad news for all of us in ASANOR old enough to remember the early days of Americanist meetings and seminars in Norway beginning in 1978. As assistant to the cultural attachés at the American embassy from 1982 to 1995, Judy assumed a key role in the organization and funding of the annual seminars cum conferences, in most cases wholly paid for by the U.S. Information Service.
Against the background of the Culture and Cold War, American Studies Seminars in Norway were started in 1977 by William van Buskirk, and followed up by his successor Thomas Spooner, then cultural attachés at the American Embassy in Oslo. The purpose was to broaden the knowledge of American culture, in particular literature, art and politics, among Norwegian academics and teachers. The seminars were developed and expanded when Terry Kneebone and Judy Holst took over the responsibility for the events in 1982. Judy would oversee the running of the seminars, helped by Gunnar Kobbeltvedt, chauffer, barkeep and handyman. In 1986 Petter Næss also became involved in the embassy organization team for the American Studies Seminars.
At annual conferences held at venues like Voksenåsen, Leangkollen and Sørmarka throughout the 1980s, Judy was at the center by bringing in experts and, not least, creating good cheer and conviviality. Those of us who attended the seminars in those days will remember the high quality of the speakers, but even more the nightly sessions, presided over by Judy, in small hotel rooms packed by participants who solved every academic and other questions around a good bottle of whiskey, liberally provided by Judy.
Judy meant a lot to me personally because she was instrumental in setting up an American Studies Resource Center in 1983, at what was, back then, Stavanger College of Education. This AV collection was acquired on a funding of $20.000 from the USIS. Judy was as proud of this collection as I was, and took several cultural attachés and even ambassadors to Stavanger to inspect it. The center loaned a lot of material to high school teachers for about ten years until the Internet made this service redundant in the early 1990s.
In the 1990s the American Studies Seminars took to the road and were held in Kristiansand (where ASANOR was established on Robert Baehr’s initiative in 1993), Grimstad, Fredrikstad, Stavanger, and later Hamar and Bø. And Judy followed to hold the reins and control the strings of the purse with unflagging dedication and interest, attitudes that she also extended to all the seminar participants that she had met during her career. Whenever I met her she loved to talk about events and people connected to ASANOR. In short, our organization and its members became her life. She was truly the mother of all our conferences.
Judith Holst’s private life was not always easy and she had to contend with some serious problems. Those of us who were her closest friends saw her predicaments. Against this background her service to us becomes even more impressive. We can now only look back in gratitude and for what she meant to us and to our organization.