In Memory of Steve Hollier
It has been just over a week since my friend, Steve Hollier, passed away. Eli and I had been in a car on our way up from Lənkəran to Baku, looking forward to meeting up with Steve and his partner, Sandra, staying in Baku for a few days. We didn’t learn until later that day that Steve had passed away. It was a shock, as Eli stumbled through a phone call delivering the news. We felt crushed. We had just been chatting with Steve the day before. We had read a post of his early that Wednesday morning.
Normally, the passing of a friend wouldn’t warrant a blog post here. Yet, I think his passing is just as relevant to Azerbaijan as anything else. Steve had come here trailing Sandra as she took her teaching job at a Baku school. When I met him last year, he had just been getting a feel for Azerbaijan and was meeting up with Peace Corps Volunteers. We PCVs know that living in Azerbaijan can be difficult, even in Baku. A lot of ex-pats have a hard time even getting out of their apartments in Baku just because culturally and physically, Azerbaijan can be a difficult place for many foreigners. Steve and Sandra, however, had the opposite approach: to overcome the difficulties of living in Azerbaijan, they pushed out and not only explored Baku, but also went on to explore as many regions of Azerbaijan as they could, dragging along their ex-pat colleagues when they could. Steve contacted Mason through CBT and Mason ended up taking him all over the country. At first I thought that this was just a weird guy who was bizarrely interested in Azerbaijan. As it turned out, he was actually a good person with a good heart and an enthusiasm for life.
To me, Steve was the kind of guy who you felt like you knew for 10 years after a 15 minute conversation and, at the same time, someone who you couldn’t stop learning new things about. Steve was open and thoughtful, and always ready to offer help or a suggestion, and was endlessly generous (especially to us PCVs). He had an energy about him that could capture you and pull you with it as he talked about this idea or that. He was a good listener. He was a warm and welcoming spirit. Incredibly, however, he seemed to have an endless supply of experiences and knowledge that would arise out of nowhere. I knew he could write and that he was an excellent photographer, but then other things started piling on: first I learned he had managed arts programs back in the UK, then I learned that he had been trained in forestry, and then that he was an accomplished musician and singer, and then that he was an accomplished modern dancer. When I talked about my experiences with management here in Azerbaijan, we followed that up with a long and thoughtful discussion about his own experiences as a manager, a trove of knowledge. One of the first things I remember about Steve was that he was working with people at Sandra’s school to put on theater productions.
As Steve was getting to know Azerbaijan with Sandra, traveling to all parts of Azerbaijan, he was also looking for a job. There was no better fit for him than the editor position at AZ Magazine. Almost overnight, the magazine went from a fluffy ex-pat magazine with pictures of celebrities on the cover and puff-piece articles to a magazine with substantive content, a publication that showcased what’s happening in Azerbaijan. Now, even the website is going under a transformation Steve started. This is where Steve really took off. He had vision and passion and energy to transform the magazine into a valuable resource, easily the only one available to the Baku ex-pat community. When we visited Steve and Sandra in Baku, he would be stoking ideas and almost uncontainable was his excitement for reinventing the magazine. Steve found ways to get people involved and contributing, finding where there were neat things going on in Azerbaijan and putting them into the magazine. Steve was taking what he had, a country full of content, and spinning into a work of art.
It’s tough to get across what a great person and a great personality Steve was. The words here don’t really convey how much he cared, how much we cared for him, and the true treasure he really was. His is a big loss for everyone. I consider myself fortunate to have known Steve and to be able to celebrate who he was. One of my first thoughts upon hearing the news was that this was a major loss for Azerbaijan, as he was so good for this country. He was excited to explore it, experience it, and share it with the world in a way that could only help Azerbaijan. He was only getting started.
Sandra told us Steve had said that, here in Azerbaijan, he felt like he had finally found his tribe. After traveling the world, he ended up in Azerbaijan where he had a place and a group of people who he couldn’t help but feel comfortable with. For those of us who didn’t have the privilege of knowing Steve, it is enough to know that he touched many lives and was a wonderful person, someone we should all be thankful for and who we will celebrate. For those of us who did know him, we have the honor of being a part of Steve’s tribe.