Farewell, Miss Cleo

Cleo Holden was a South Garland resident for several decades. With the passing of Cleo Carter Holden on August 31, 2019, The City of Garland lost a leading lady. She was also a personal friend and at times a co-conspirator. She was avidly interested in all things pertaining to national and local history. Genealogy was a passion, as well as historic preservation. Among the several organizations she supported with her membership were the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) and the National Society of the Daughters of the Colonists. She had strong political leanings and was an outspoken supporter of our Dallas County Constables.


At the time of her death Cleo Holden was President of Preservation Garland, a non profit organization dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings in Garland. That group had succeeded in saving the Pace House and the Lyles/Tinsley House from demolition. The Pace House is now owned by a private citizen and the Lyles/Tinsley House is owned by the City of Garland and remains badly in need of restoration. During our last phone conversation, about a month before her passing, we tossed ideas around; trying to figure out a way to stoke interest in the restoration of the Lyles/Tinsley House with the support from our local city leaders. She feared that decision makers were unaware of the sturdiness of the interior of the house, and would again slate it for demolition. She was trying to come up with a way to motivate Mayor Scott LeMay to tour the 2 story prairie house circa 1884 and hopefully become a supporter of the project. Since there is no electrical hook up, I suggested she wait until the summer heat has subsided. I followed up with emails, but they went unanswered.


Cleo Holden was a diminutive lady with a huge personality and wicked sense of humor, at times. One of the most endearing qualities in this lady’s character was her tenacity and focus. When focused on saving an old building located in the middle of Garland’s downtown square she was met with opposition by a mutual friend. She invited him to meet with her down in the square which is bordered by trees. When he arrived she greeted him with, “Hello Robert, I was just trying to decide which limb to hang you from.” That was classic Cleo. She spoke softly, with a gentle southern lilt. Less than 5 feet in height, with a lovely face framed by snow white hair, she presided over meetings and enjoyed the role of public speaker. She was appalled that the GISD curriculum did not include a single mention of the history of Garland, and was certain that the renovation of the Lyles/Tinsley House would provide an effective introduction to the subject. Together she and I envisioned a day when school groups would gather in the library and be given an introduction to a tour of the old Santa Fe Depot now serving as a museum, peek inside the Pullman railcar and on to the house for a glimpse of life in what is now Garland back in the end of the 19th century. From all outward appearances  the area known as Heritage Crossing is all but abandoned, sitting lifeless. The little green building that serves as a museum is open two hours a week on Saturdays, but there is no tour schedule of any kind, and GISD students are unaware of its existence. I can feel Miss Cleo’s frustration even now, as I write this. I know she felt this was work she was leaving undone.


A few months ago Cleo organized a fifth anniversary celebration for Preservation Garland. It was held at the First Methodist Church of Garland. When guests were seated and the program was to begin,  she took the microphone in hand and said, “Hello, I’m Cleo Holden, or at least what’s left of her”. Her sense of humor never failed her, even when in declining health. Over the past twelve years Cleo and I teamed up to help raise funds for local charities, create social events, always with a purpose and much laughter. Her son Eddy often came along as photographer and to help with the heavy lifting. Her purposes were always constructive. Garland is a better place because she was here.


Eddy Holden was holding his mother’s hand as she passed away very peacefully at home. She was buried with one hand holding a replica of a Constable’s badge, placed there by a devoted friend. The Chapel at Restland was packed with a crowd who had come to say farewell to our friend and to show their respect for the lady who had worked so hard on behalf of the City of Garland.


What will become of Preservation Garland without Mrs. Cleo? That organization was formed 5 years ago with the sole purpose of preserving historically relevant structures in Garland. The Landmark Society has been in existence for many years and functions in the little Santa Fe Depot at Heritage Crossing. They preserve Garland history in the form of photos and documents. Perhaps these 2 organizations, both dedicated to preserving Garland’s history will combine their efforts sometime in the future. However it unfolds, historic preservation will hopefully continue on as Mrs. Cleo’s legacy.


Nancy Ghirla

Email: nghirla331@gmail.com