By Bill Cleary
Thomas Joseph Holt Sr. with his brother Leo and father Leo Sr., started the warehousing company in the mid-sixties as an adjunct to the family’s successful trucking business. His father died in 1968 an his brother Leo retired in the early 80‘s at the age of 53.
In a 1985 Gloucester City News interview Holt said his family , of Irish heritage, had ties with Gloucester City that go back four generations. Holt was 48 at the time of the interview.
“On my mother’s side, " said Holt, “was the Mooney family. One relative was Bill Williams the building inspector for Gloucester City. His wife, Katherine Williams, was my mother, Edna’s first cousin.”
Other names related to the Holt family are the Langes and the Ryans, “So if you see someone in this town who is redhead,” declared Holt, “there is a good chance he or she could be a fourth or fifth generation Holt.”
The company began to develop in the immediate area during the latter part of 1968 when it moved into the south yard of the New York Ship property. That same year the company entered into negotiations to lease what was then known as the Armstrong Cork facility at the foot of Essex Street (presently the truck entrance to Holt Logistics) from the Camden County Municipal Sewer Authority.
In 1985 Holt pointed out, “Over the years many things had been suggested for the property we now occupy, some of which were the county sewer authority and a tank farm. None of the suggestions were as labor intensified as we are.”
The last paragraph of the 1985 interview reads, “Holt was quite candid and sincere with his answers during our meeting. One was left with a feeling that he definitely held the City of Gloucester close to his heart along with wanting to be a part of the community. All that remains is for the residents of the community to accept Tom Holt.”
Mr. Holt is survived by his wife Joan S. (nee Smykal). Five children Tom J. Jr. (Angela), Leo (Melinda), Melissa Fluehr (Michael), Joan (David) Rybas and Michael (Susan); 15 grandchildren, 4 great grandchildren; his brother Leo Jr. (Patricia) of Boca Raton, FL and Edna White; numerous nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews. Dear brother-in-law of Jack Smykal, Mary (Bob) Bruce, and Roseann and Bernard Gallagher.
Son Tom Holt Jr. runs Packer Avenue Marine Terminal in South Philadelphia. Son Leo is president of Gloucester Terminals L.L.C., privately owned by the Holt family. Another son, Michael, manages Delaware Avenue Enterprises, which consists of the Publicker site at Columbus Boulevard and Packer Avenue and several refrigerated warehouses. Several grandchildren, including Tom III and Eric, are in the family business.
"No one individual has transformed the port in as meaningful a way as Tom Holt Sr.," said Robert Blackburn, senior deputy executive director of the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority.
"He built an empire. His organization controls perhaps the best marine terminal on the Philadelphia side of the Delaware River as well as on the New Jersey side. He was incredibly bright, hardworking, aggressive, and tenacious in pursuit of his company and his family's best interest."
In 1990, the Philadelphia port authority put out a bid request for a new terminal operator of its largest marine terminal, Packer Avenue. Mr. Holt's company was awarded the lease and has been operating the terminal ever since.
Mr. Holt was born in Philadelphia in 1936 to Edna and Leo Holt and grew up in the Juniata Park section. In October 1962, he married Joan Smykal.
Mr. Holt attended Holy Innocents Elementary School, graduated in 1955 from North Catholic High School, and served in the Navy for seven years, including in Guantanamo Bay during the Cuban missile crisis.
"From humble beginnings and over many ups and downs, the family's track followed that of the country from the Great Depression, through World War II and Korea, to the 1960s," said son Leo. "They applied very American values of self-reliance, perseverance, and willingness to work hard to create their own luck. One of his favorite sayings was, 'The best help you can ever find is at the end of your own two hands.' "
The younger Holt recalled that his father had been described by The Philadelphia Inquirer as "swashbuckling" and a "salty maverick," and was once profiled by the Wall Street Journal for his willingness to stand up for his beliefs.
Mr. Holt and his brother Leo expanded the family trucking and warehousing business into shipping and port operations, the sale and purchase of ships, and working to increase cargo and commerce on the Delaware River.
"Beginning in the 1960s and until very recently, it was common for him to leave home on a Monday, have lunch and dinner on a Tuesday in Tokyo, and be home with his wife and children in Philadelphia on a Wednesday," Leo Holt said. "He was in Cuba at least four times; prior to the revolution as a young tourist, then again as part of a U.S. delegation, and twice more in recent years.
"On two occasions in the 1970s, he was a passenger aboard an airliner that was hijacked on its way back to Philadelphia. He downplayed adventures like this and the time he was trapped for a few days in war-torn Beirut as normal occurrences for one building a business," his son said.
A Concelebrated Funeral Mass was held for Mr. Holt on Friday, June 24 at St. Katherine of Siena Church, Frankford Ave., at Primose Road, Philadelphia. Entombment Holy Sepulchre.
In lieu of flowers, donations to the Tom Holt Memorial Cancer Fund, The Jackson Laboratory, 600 Main St., Bar Harbor, Maine 04609 (www.jax.org) 1-800-474-9880 Attn: Joanne Bean, Senior Director or to The Thomas Jefferson University Urology Research and Training Fund, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, 925 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. (www.jeff.edu/jeffgiving) 1-877-533-3443 Attn: Stephen Smith, Vice President.