Tragic Happenings

Frederick Holiday - Suicide - Purpose Lost

Bratenahl Place
Dr. Frederick Holiday
Dr. Frederick Holiday

A lot of people considered themselves friends of Cleveland Schools superintendent  Frederick Holiday. They delighted in the dimensions of this sharecropper's son; a man whose life a friend once described as "a wonderful story of triumph over every kind of adversity.

Harvard doctorate, educator, gun collector, art lover, pilot, farmer: Holliday was all of these. But most of all, his friends said proudly, he was a survivor. They believed that right up to the point Holiday killed himself. People who thought they knew him best, discovered they really didn't know him at all.

Dr. Frederick Holliday loved flying his single-engine airplane. The airplane was his way of relaxing and forget about his problems. Flying was symbolic of freedom. Up in the air, no one could bother him.

He enjoyed Aviation High School. He often spent time in the second-floor control tower at the Aviation High School, listening to air-traffic radio communications to unwind.

On Saturday, January 26, 1985, Holliday went to the Aviation High School principal’s office about 10:30 a.m. and typed a letter on the aviation school stationery. After writing the letter, he went to the high school’s second-floor control tower at the other end of the building. It was there that he fired a single shot from a .357-caliber revolver. After firing the weapon, Holliday walked to the stairs and collapsed at the base.

A student arriving at Aviation High School at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, January 28, 1985, discovered the body of Frederick Holliday in the stairwell.  Police found the gun between his legs, with five rounds remaining in the chamber. They found a spent shell in the control room along with a letter and Holiday's flight bag.

The suicide letter addressed to Cleveland Cleveland citizens, and the children and staff of the Cleveland Schools dated 11:00 on Saturday stated, “As of this moment, it appears that my last piece of dignity is being stripped,” Holliday wrote. “The fighting among school board members and what petty politics is doing to the system has sickened me. I wanted so much for Cleveland Schools to improve greatly. I believed we were on our way.”

“The events of the past few weeks make my reporting to work meaningless,” the letter continued. “The purpose seems to be lost. There is mindlessness that has nothing to do with the education or the welfare of the city. This hurts most of all.”

Most of Holliday’s experience was in his native Philadelphia. He began his career there as a science teacher, and eventually spent a total of 24 years in the city as a teacher, principal, and administrator. He left Philadelphia in 1971 to become a deputy school superintendent in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He spent just six months there before returning to Philadelphia as principal of an elementary school. He later called the Michigan experience as a disaster.

In 1974, Holliday began seven years as a school superintendent in York, Pennsylvania. He weathered that system’s first teacher strike and credited with helping to revitalize an almost bankrupt school system.

Holliday came to Cleveland after more than a year as superintendent in Plainfield, New Jersey, a district of 7,800 pupils, just more than a tenth the size of Cleveland’s 76,000-pupil system. The interviews for the position took place at the law offices located in the former Bratenahl High School, which is how Dr. Holliday became familiar with the village. Frederick participated in many Bratenahl activities, was a good neighbor, and well-liked throughout the village.

Frederick Douglass Holliday was born in 1927 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a graduate of Harvard University and received his doctorate in education from Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio. He was married to Ethel, who later contracted terminal cancer and also committed suicide on May 26, 1975, in the basement of their York, Pennsylvania home. Frederick and Ethel had two daughters: Dorothy (Powe) and Lynn.

Holiday’s final words were, “I pray that I will be forgiven by my maker, family, and the people of this city. I have no malice for anyone, only love, and sadness."