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In Memoriam: Constance Holden—Journalist, Artist

Employees at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and its journal Science today expressed shock and deep sadness at the tragic loss of the gifted science journalist and artist, Constance Holden.

Holden, 68, a veteran journalist and painter affectionately known to friends and colleagues as “Tancy,” apparently had just left the AAAS headquarters building on her bicycle around 6:00 p.m. Monday 12 April when she was struck and killed by a truck providing support for the Nuclear Security Summit taking place in downtown Washington, D.C.

Self portrait by Constance Holden

Holden had joined the staff of Science magazine in 1970. She was an award-winning reporter, highly regarded for her comprehensive coverage of the biological and genetic bases for human behavior. In addition to writing news features for four decades about social science, and particularly psychology, she had long edited the journal’s weekly “Random Samples” page, a compendium of newsworthy scientific developments.

Holden was a highly accomplished artist whose oil paintings have regularly appeared on the walls of AAAS.

Alan I. Leshner, chief executive officer of AAAS and executive publisher of Science informed staff early Tuesday, noting that Holden “was held in very high esteem and with great affection by both those people with whom she worked and our readers. This is a terrible loss both personally and professionally for so many on our staff who knew her well.

“We send our collective sympathies to her colleagues, family and friends.”

Bruce Alberts, the editor-in-chief of Science and former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, said he was “shocked and saddened” to hear of Holden’s death.

“I regret that I had the opportunity to interact with her for only two of her 40 years at Science,” Alberts aid. “Tancy was a person of tremendous multiple talents and an always lively spirit and intellect. Our magazine, and science quite broadly, owes her a great debt for her thousands of contributions to our understanding and appreciation of the amazing world that we inhabit. And her death accentuates the reality that our time together is finite and all too short, even without accidents.”

Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health and former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute, said: “All of us at NIH grieve Constance Holden’s tragic and untimely death. I enjoyed working with her immensely over the years on innumerable articles. She was an outstanding journalist and regarded highly among the scientific community. Our hearts go out to her family and colleagues. You have our deepest sympathies.”

Colin Norman, news editor for Science, said: “She was a unique personality and a wonderful reporter, and a great colleague. She will be deeply missed.”

Among Holden’s many awards, she was honored in 2004 by the National Mental Health Association for four stories she wrote in 2003 exploring new developments in the understanding and treatment of schizophrenia, depression, and other mental health issues. Judges had praised her work for its accessibility, and for her skill at writing clearly about seemingly complex information.

Holden’s recent journalistic work also had included a special news section in Science that delved into the research helping to define world-class athletics (30 July 2004). She had explored, for example, what scientists have learned about the physiology of East African runners, who dominate the long-distance running scene, and West African runners, who have emerged as the world’s fastest sprinters.

The accident that claimed Holden’s life took place at the intersection of New York Avenue and 12th Street, N.W., in Washington, D.C.

Holden was born 11 October 1941. According to her colleagues, she was planning a show of her paintings at her home on Sunday. She enjoyed horseback riding and she played the piano. She is survived by her husband, John Butters, of Washington, D.C.