A New Hampshire man who lived in an unfurnished mobile and drove a lawn mower around his small town died a secret multi-millionaire and bequeathed his fortune to the tight-knit community.
Geoffrey Holt. who died in June at the age 82, was known as the caretaker of a Hinsdale mobile home park where he lived in a unit with no computer or TV and a bed with legs that went through the floor.
Holt rarely left the town of 4,200 on the Vermont and Massachusetts border and did not have a car. He was often seen riding his mower to the local convenience store, clad in threadbare clothes.
Edwin “Smokey” Smith, Holts best friend, former employer and a former Republican state lawmaker, learned shortly before his death that the divorced and childless man had made investments that had paid off in a big way – to the tune of $3.8 million.
“He seemed to have what he wanted, but he didn’t want much,” he said.
Smith suggested that Holt think of the community, but never expected him to will the entire lump sum to its coffers, with the instructions that it be spent on education, health, recreation and culture.
“I was sort of dumbfounded when I found out that all of it went to the town,” said Smith.
He was well-liked in the community, where he often did odd jobs for others, but what most residents didn’t know was that he was living vastly below his means.
“I think for Geoff, lawn mowing was relaxation, it was a way for him to kind of connect with the outdoors,” his physical therapist Jim Ferry said.
“I think he saw it as service to people that he cared about, which were the people in the trailer park that I think he really liked because they were not fancy people.”
“I don’t think anyone had any idea that he was that successful,” said Steve Diorio, chairperson of the town selectboard who’d occasionally wave at Holt from his car. “I know he didn’t have a whole lot of family, but nonetheless, to leave it to the town where he lived in … It’s a tremendous gift.”
Town officials were debating how best to use the substantial shot in the arm, and organizations were invited to apply for grants.
Hinsdale will “utilize the money left very frugally as Mr. Holt did,” said Kathryn Lynch, town administrator.
Holt, a former production manager at a grain mill, used to comb through financial publications and had invested in a communications mutual fund before the advent of the digital age.
His sister, 81-year-old Alison Holt of Laguna Woods, California, said that Holt learned from his father the importance of not wasting money and investing.
“Geoffrey had a learning disability. He had dyslexia,” she said. “He was very smart in certain ways. When it came to writing or spelling, he was a lost cause. And my father was a professor. So, I think that Geoff felt like he was disappointing my dad. But maybe socking away all that money was a way to compete.”
Holt, who had served in the Navy and collected history books and records by composers like Handel and Mozart, didn’t talk about money with his sister but had often asked her if she needed anything.
“I just feel so sad that he didn’t indulge himself just a little bit,” said Alison, who is also childless.
“He always told me that his main goal in life was to make sure that nobody noticed anything,” she said, adding that he’d say “or you might get into trouble.”
With Post wires