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Professor Emeritus Gary Holbrook was born in Denver andraised in LaJunta, Colorado. He is a fourth generation Coloradan whose grandfather homesteaded near Fort Bent. He was raised by his grandmother, Corrine Sayre Holbrook as his parents, Elmer, and Margaret Farrell Holbrook, were serving in the Army during WWII.
During high school, he was involved in sports and was a member of Boy Scouts and the Koshare Indian Dancers. Aftergraduation he joined the Army Reserve. When he returned home, he attended Otero Junior College, LaJunta and AdamsState College in Alamosa, Colorado. At Adams State, he majored in Speech, Theater and Secondary Education with a minor in Political Science. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech and Education and taught at La Junta High School for a year.
Southern Illinois University in Carbondale offered him a Graduate Fellowship in Public Address. He was also the Debate Coach at Southern Illinois University High School. During this time, he took a special interest in political and Presidential debates and was able to collect many tapes of those debateswhich he used in his classes. After receiving a Master of Science Degree from Southern Illinois, he taught Speech Communication at the University of Colorado in Boulder for two years. He then moved to Ashland, Oregon and taught at Southern Oregon College.
Gary was approached by Professor Lester Thonssen with Metropolitan State College in 1968 to establish and direct the forensics program and teach speech communications at the new College in downtown Denver. In 1978, under Professor Holbrook’s direction, Metropolitan State College hosted the National Debate Competition, when 62 top college teams from across the United States vied for the National Debate Championship. In 1981, the American Forensic Association recognized Metro’s 1978 tournament as the best in the 1970 decade.
On sabbatical in Ireland, Gary attended the final round of the Observer-Mace Debates in Bristol, England in the spring of 1979 where the Irish teams finished first and second. The English teams would tour the United States in exhibition debates under the sponsorship of the English-speaking Union. The English teams had been touring the United States since the 1920s. Gary hosted a series of meetings at Trinity College with several representatives of the major college debating societies in Ireland and with many colleges and universities throughout the United States to see if there was enough interest in an American tour to seek sponsorship for such a tour. It was concluded that the natural chain to select who would represent Ireland in an American tour was the Irish Times Debate winners. Gary was able to secure financial support for the 1980 tour from the Adolph Coors Company. The Coors Company underwrote the tour for three years. In 1983 Gary formed the Friends of the Irish Debate Series, which supported the Irish debaters through various fundraising activities until the National Parliamentary Debate Association became the official sponsor of the American tour in 1997.
The tours were then continued the College Historical Society – the oldest University debating society in the British Isles.
Gary loved the people of Ireland and called the country his second home. He traveled there often and maintained a relationship with many of his previous debaters and their families.
Gary received the Distinguished Service Award from Metro State College in 1993 and was the recipient of three sabbaticals in 1979, 1986 and 1993 to teach and lecture on speech communication in the classroom through the Teacher Education program at Trinity College, Dublin. In March of 2023, Metropolitan State University honored Gary by naming the debate program The Gary Holbrook Debate Institute. Many of his documents and taped debates have been donated to the University as it continues not only the Irish Debate program, but debate with other countries as well.
Professor Emeritus Holbrook is a member of Phi Delta Kappa, and honorary education society and a member of Delta Sigma Rho Tau Kappa Delta and Pi Kappa, honorary forensic societies.
Gary loved to travel, which took him to many countries throughout the years. He was also very outgoing, and as the saying goes “never met a stranger”. He was a gifted storytellerand in his later years, loved to make up songs for friends, nurses taking care of him in the hospitals and staff at restaurants where he spent time. For many years enjoyed playing golf and hemade a Hole in One at South Suburban Golf Links in 1984. He was thrilled to have his Hole-in-One card autographed by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.
Gary was a loving husband to his wife, Judy, stepchildren Sean and Tammy Gray, grandchildren Christopher, Chase and Cydney Gray and Chelsi Evans, Cousin Marilee Gruber, sister Kitty Long and several nieces and nephews. He is deeply missed by those who knew him and loved him – he could light up a room wherever he went.
We invite you to make a gift in his memory to the Gary Holbrook Debating Union & Archive which will carry his legacy forward here at MSU Denver.
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