Larry E. Holmes 1942-2022

Larry E. Holmes, c. 1970 University of South Alabama Yearbook

Dr. Larry E. Holmes taught Russian and Soviet History at the University of South Alabama from 1968-2005 and maintained active ties with the History Department subsequently. A leading expert on Stalinism, Dr. Holmes published multiple books and articles on such topics as education in the Soviet Union, the Russian experience of the Second World War, the Purges, regional governance, as well as his favorite football (soccer) team in Kirov, Dinamo.  He received several significant grants in his career to support this research and continued working in the Russian archives throughout retirement. Most recently (2021) he published Revising the Revolution: the Unmasking of Russia’s Official History of 1917. He further produced many works in the Russian language, and taught as a Visiting Professor of History at Rostov State University in Russia (1992-93). He served in numerous capacities for the Southern Conference on Slavic Studies and the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.

Early in his career at USA, Dr. Holmes supported a progressive student group called Genesis. An excellent college pitcher who once desired to enter the major leagues and later a serious marathoner who broke 3 hours, he wrote a sports column under the pseudonym “Baseballs” for the USA alternative student newspaper Rearguard. He actively participated in the Civil Rights movement in Mobile, and advocated on behalf of migrant workers. He protested the Junior Miss pageant in 1969.  

A passionate historian devoted to telling objective history from the sources in a Cold War era, Dr. Holmes maintained his professional views even when they were not mainstream and risked his professional career. In 1972, the university attempted to deny him tenure, which he defeated with support from USA administrators, faculty, and students on grounds of free speech. The Alabama Education Association provided legal assistance, and Dr. Holmes became President of the USA unit of the AEA. He received multiple awards at the University of South Alabama, including the Frederick P. Whiddon Award (1973) for “Outstanding Achievement in the Academic and Civic Community,” the Arts and Sciences “Distinguished Lecture Award” (1983-84), the Alumni Association Outstanding Scholar Award (1986) and the Scholar of the Year, Phi Kappa Phi (2000).

 He was Chair of the Faculty Senate in 1977, 1978, 1991, and 1992. Faculty and Staff who have worked at the university during the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s will remember seeing Dr. “Cut the Course” Holmes running around the lake with his TEAM, many who worked at USA. His professional papers are stored in the McCall archive.

Dr. Holmes passed away in Kirov, Russia at the age of 80 from pneumonia and meningitis. He had been gathering research for a new book project. More information will follow concerning his family and memorial services. Meanwhile, please check this page if you would like to read or share any memories of Larry.


  1. There’s so much to say that I hesitate to start. But I don’t want to miss this opportunity to quickly express my sense of loss on learning the news of the death of my fellow hearing-aid-wearing European historian. He made life around the USA History Department so interesting and so funny for so long. He ran circles around us all in “retirement” and was proof of the adage about doing what you love and then never having to work. I only knew him from the later portion of his career and likely missed the really fun parts at the beginning, when he was a particularly sharp thorn in the side of the university administration. But I heard stories, and they were good ones. He, Howard, Lenny, Joe, and others from that early era are yucking it up now, and it must be a real hoot. Thanks, Larry, for the inspiration and the memories. We didn’t always agree, but we had enough respect for one another to work it out. That meant a lot.

  2. Thanks for being a great brother. His visit to Salina, KS this last summer was a blessing. He passed away doing what he enjoyed in Russia amongst his Russian friends. We miss him and wish he could have been with his family here in the US.

  3. Dr. Holmes was one of my all time favorite professors at South Alabama! He was a great mentor for me. He enjoyed watching women’s basketball at South Alabama and I saw him at some of those games.

  4. Dr. Holmes was one of my all time favorite professors at South Alabama! He was a great mentor for me. He enjoyed watching women’s basketball at South Alabama and I saw him at some of those games.

  5. Dr. Holmes inspired me. He took me and other 70s-era students to an entirely new and unfamiliar world of ideas, scholarship and erudition. I vividly remember much of what he introduced into our awareness: historical figures, internal power struggles, the Samizdat movement, Solzhenitsyn, and forces shaping Russian and Soviet history. He was hard-driving and passionate, and every lecture was performance art. That’s how good he was as a teacher. I am also forever grateful for the personal affirmation he gave me as a student and person. [Nonetheless, he was shocked I could barely break the 10-minute mark in my jogging efforts. He said he could walk that fast] As impressive as Dr. Holmes was in the classroom and in his writings, his personal courage and integrity were even greater. He was a hero.

  6. We lost a classic. Larry was the perfect teacher-scholar role model for younger (and older) faculty in the field of Russian history, society, and culture. I met him at my very first SCSS in 1984, we talked at subsequent conferences, and we shared lively discussions on Russian archives, the Stalin era, and the imperative of teaching history through archival and other documents. In the late 1990s, he gave a brilliant and entertaining presentation to my Soviet history class at the University of North Florida. His engaging personality, wry sense of humor, teaching excellence, scholarly productivity, and community activism inspired so many of his friends, colleagues, and students. He was kind, reliable, insightful, prolific, and resourceful, and he always asked questions that went straight to the heart of any topic. A man of honor, integrity, and empathy, he will be missed. His memory is eternal.

  7. First a human being and second a professor, Larry was one of the most approachable, inspiring, challenging, and lovable of my colleagues. May the earth receive him gently. A prince among men.

  8. Joe Newman

    I met Larry Holmes soon after I arrived at USA in 1977 as a green young professor in the College of Education. I got to know him when we worked together in the Alabama Education Association (AEA), the teacher organization that had gone to bat for him and saved his job. We also shared an interest in the history of education. I looked up to Larry because he was a few years older, had more experience in higher education, and had built a campus-wide reputation as a superb teacher and researcher. Soon I was working with Larry and his History Department colleague Woody Hannum in USA’s Faculty Senate.

    After I took up distance running and entered a few races, there was Larry again, an experienced runner who encouraged me to train harder and run faster. Running helped keep us in touch until he and I both retired from USA in the mid-2000s.

    I feel so fortunate that Larry and I renewed our friendship during the summer of 2022. As he conducted research on two teachers who went to Russia from the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education in Fairhope, Alabama, he remembered I had also published research on the school. He emailed me in July, and we talked about our research, but we also told stories about the races we ran and the more eccentric runners we knew back in the day. We shared what we had done with our lives during retirement.

    Our correspondence went on for a while, and in November, just last month, Larry wrote that he had gone back to Russia, a country he loved, to conduct research. Soon he reported feeling ill with what he thought was food poisoning or a virus, but he downplayed the seriousness of the situation. Within days I learned through Larry’s ex-wife Alla Zakharova that had he had passed away in Russia on November 30. I told Alla I felt shocked and heartbroken. I still can’t believe Larry is gone.

  9. I am sorry to hear of Dr. Holmes’s passing. We met a few times, and we were in neighboring cities and somewhat related fields. He always was gracious and friendly. His record of activism was impressive.

    Daniel E. Miller
    University of West Florida
    Pensacola, FL

  10. Larry Holmes was an inspiring and challenging colleague who passionately pursued his scholarship, teaching, and service to the whole community. USA is a better place because of his presence.

  11. I was so proud of the A I received in his European Historiography class. He was a wonderful teacher and so fascinating to listen to. Rest in peace, Dr Holmes.

  12. Larry’s phenomenal scholarly productivity contributed much work of great value. Moreover, he was a wonderful colleague. Larry was enormously helpful and supportive to me during all the years I researched, wrote, and published about a topic he had worked on – the Workers’ Opposition in the Russian Communist Party. I always enjoyed talking with him at academic conferences, as well as the letters and emails we exchanged. He had a cheerful and uplifting personality in my encounters with him. My heart goes out to his family and close friends.

  13. Petra and I were stunned and saddened upon learning of Larry’s passing. It was like a bolt out of the blue. If anything in this world was stable for me it was Larry Holmes and his enduring research and love of Russia.  

    I remember when Larry told me he was retiring and I asked him what he was going to do with his time. He looked at me perplexed and said, “I’m finally going to get some work done. No more testing and grading, no more committees, and a lot more time in Russia.” And off he went to the archives in the city of Kirov, where he bought an apartment for a bargain price across from a building that formerly housed a chemical weapons facility. I don’t know if that last detail was true or typical Larry Holmes tongue in cheek, but he relished telling me that. Such was Larry, always entertaining.

    I first met Larry in 1984 when I took a position as assistant professor of Russian language and literature at the University of South Alabama. He was so happy to have a younger colleague in Russian that he immediately gave me advice on how to plot my path to tenure. Over the years we saw each other a lot, and Larry became a welcome guest at our home, where we discussed the latest developments in the Soviet Union for hours on end, from glasnost and perestroika to the end of censorship and one-party rule. In the summers we traveled together to conduct research at the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana. After the long days in the library we would practice our Russian in the bars on Green Street. We didn’t always agree on the direction of developments in the USSR. Larry tended to take a more upbeat view, while I was more cautious. But whenever we agreed to disagree there were never any hard feelings. A consummate scholar and a decent guy, Larry was never boastful or condescending. He could laugh at himself and even seemed to enjoy recounting the numerous cultural and linguistic faux pas he committed while in Russia.  

    Larry was like a big brother to me, and I looked up to him and frequently sought his counsel on grant applications and draft articles I had written. The door to his office was always open, only you had to compete with numerous student supplicants waiting outside to see him, for Larry was an immensely popular instructor. 

    Three years ago at a conference I spoke with Larry for the last time. The subject was Putin and the unrestrained power he had amassed, rivaling that of Stalin. We both agreed that it did not bode well to have unlimited power in the hands of limited people. In Solzhenitsyn’s words, that inevitably leads to cruelty. Despite the ongoing war, Larry went back to Kirov this November. Most likely, he had no second thoughts about doing so…. History was calling, and Larry was fearless… 

    Larry Holmes’ life spanned the major events of postwar Russian history with all its hopes and bitter disappointments. His passing is like the end of an era for me, with the term “postwar” taking on new meaning. 

    I am forever grateful to you, Larry, for your friendship and kindness over so many years. May you rest in peace!

    Joseph Mozur

  14. Larry sometimes visited the European Reading Room at the Library of Congress to do research on Russia. I didn’t know him well, but he was always friendly and a pleasure to work with.

  15. The Marx Library Circulation Staff will miss Dr. Holmes! He was kind to everyone!

  16. My name is Pavel Chemodanov, I am one of Larry’s friends from Kirov, Russia, his colleague in the history of the USSR. I am writing this comment right after we saw Larry on his last journey. We were very pleased with his arrival in September of this year. He could not come to us for three years due to the pandemic and recent political events. We met him in 2012 at a conference in the town of Urzhum, Kirov Region, after which we constantly talked. In 2019, I was one of the organizers of the presentation of the Russian translation of his book on the Kirov Pedagogical Institute, which was held in Kirov with great success. Residents of our city considered Larry “their man”, many knew him and loved him. I remember him as a kind, sympathetic and generous person. He loved Russia and all of us very much. I will finish as it is customary among Russians: “Kingdom of Heaven to him”! Sorry for my English, I used google translate.

  17. I first met Larry in the summer of 1984 when he spent a week or two at the Library of Congress, using the European Reading Room, where I spent my career as a librarian starting that same year. After a few days he asked if we could have lunch together, which we continued to do every few years when he returned. I saw him ever so briefly at several conferences. I had retired when he last came through, but we still got together, and because of the pandemic we sat outside the library eating salads on a sunny but cool and windy day in September of last year. Larry had just flown from Russia to Washington, DC, staying with his son Dmitriy and perusing through several scores of books in the European Reading Room before heading off to his home in Alabama. He talked of his time in Kirov, using that city’s archives, seeing Russians there he had long known, and of making knew acquaintances through showing interest, real interest, in their dogs. He missed his own dogs back in Alabama and was looking forward to seeing them. We talked about baseball, one of his great loves. A real scholar, yes, but just a great, well-rounded guy, a tonic to be around. I wish I still had a copy of his fascinating, several-page write-up of a hospital stay that covered perhaps as much as a fortnight when he fell sick in Kirov right about ten years ago. It is possible that he died in the same hospital. I feel blessed to have known him.

  18. This is the second member of The Team that we have lost. The first was our coach, Dr. Glenn Sebastian.

    I met Larry in 1994 while running around the campus. He was running with another runner that I knew, Mike Sealy. When I began running with them, I began a conversation with Mike. The first words I heard Larry say were to Mike. “Don’t talk to him (referring to me), he is not a runner.”

    I affectionately gave Larry his nickname “Cut the course Holmes” while writing my book, “The Long Road Back to Boston: Running Marathons With Leukemia”. A chapter in this book, “The Team”, is devoted to this rouge group of runners. Although, I left out the juicy stories since I wanted this book to be PG rated.

    Everything was a comedy moment with Larry. Although, he was as serious as a tack when it came to running and politics. He will be greatly missed by the Team, in which there is now a second void that cannot be filled.

  19. Like my colleague Pavel Chemodanov, I am from the city of Kirov (Vyatka), Russia. I have written a short text about Professor Larry Holmes for a Russian scientific journal. That is why it is in Russian. But I want his friends and colleagues to know that we here in Russia remember, love and appreciate him. Here are some excerpts from this text.
    Vladimir A. Korshunkov, PhD in History.
    Многие жители нашего города называли его просто по имени – Лэрри. Иногда приходилось делать над собой усилие, чтобы припомнить и осознать: этот улыбчивый и подтянутый человек – выдающийся ученый-исследователь, один из лучших специалистов по истории Советского Союза.
    В одной из московских научных библиотек Лэрри Холмс познакомился с ученым из Кировского педагогического института, который заказывал книги и журналы по истории советской педагогики, то есть профессионально интересовался тем же, чем и сам Холмс. Николай Васильевич Котряхов ныне доктор педагогических наук, профессор кафедры педагогики Вятского государственного университета. Именно он увлек Холмса рассказами о Вятском крае и – это тогда показалось самым важным – сокровищами местных архивов: областного (Государственного архива Кировской области) и бывшего партийного (Государственного архива социально-политической истории Кировской области). Профессор Холмс в 2000–2001 гг. провел в Кирове 11 месяцев, работая по гранту. И после того стал регулярно приезжать к нам, обычно дважды в год и каждый раз надолго. В 2003 г. он даже купил в центре города небольшую квартиру, чтобы можно было без помех проводить здесь по нескольку месяцев подряд, ежедневно и увлеченно занимаясь исследованиями.
    Выяснилось, что в Кирове, действительно, прекрасные по российским меркам архивы губернского (областного) уровня: по здешнему краю не прошлась большая война, а коммунисты хоть и уничтожили множество ценных для историков старых бумаг, но Холмсу-то нужны были документы советского периода, а не дореволюционные. Такие иногда засекречивались, но после Перестройки они стали всем доступны. Кроме архивов, у нас в городе, как известно, одна из лучших провинциальных библиотек России – Герценка. Там хорошо налажена работа краеведческого отдела. Несколько специализированных каталогов этого отдела позволяют заинтересованному пользователю сразу увидеть нужную ему тематику в отражении всевозможных источников информации – от указания на номера страниц в обобщающих книгах и вплоть до кратких заметок в районных газетах. Можно сказать, что начальный, трудоемкий этап работы ученого, занявшегося историей края, уже проделан внимательными и аккуратными сотрудниками библиотеки. Наконец, в вузах города и среди краеведов нашлось немало тех, кто был способен поддержать профессиональный разговор с американским коллегой. Лэрри охотно принимал приглашения на научные и научно-общественные мероприятия, которые организовывались в Кировской области.
    Известный во всем мире среди историков-славистов профессор Холмс, подолгу живя в Кирове, естественно вписался в местный культурный ландшафт. При этом среди здешней общественности он оставался звездой яркой. Даже закончив в 2005 г. преподавание в университете Южной Алабамы и выйдя на пенсию, он продолжал свои прежние занятия, просеивая вятские архивные залежи, выискивая редкие документы, проводя исторические исследования. Холмс стал издавать на английском и русском языках одну за другой книги, основанные на изученных им вятских материалах. Сделал монографию о Кировском пединституте в годы Великой Отечественной войны. Несколько раз ходил в Великорецкий крестный ход и не отрицал, что принял православие. Он писал популярные тексты о современной российской жизни. Сетовал (с очаровательным акцентом), что он же почти совсем обрусел, а дети сходу догадываются: этот дяденька – нерусский. Слово «viatka» фигурировало в адресе его электронной почты – слева от «собачки», сразу за инициалами. Он не отказывался печататься в местных сборниках и альманахах, очевидно, полагая, что малотиражные просветительские публикации на русском языке – это и дань вежливости по отношению к гостеприимным хозяевам, и необходимая часть профессиональной деятельности историка-иностранца. При этом он старался великодушно не замечать, как зачем-то иной раз по-русски прописывают его второй инициал, да еще с искажением (Л. Е. Холмс), или же именуют его «доктором философских наук».
    Да, он был добр и к людям, и к животным, значительную часть зарплаты и пенсии тратил на собачьи приюты в США и России, не чураясь обычной волонтерской работы (впрочем, об этом можно было узнать не от него самого). Живя в Кирове, он сожалел, что приходилось надолго оставлять в Америке его замечательных домашних питомцев. Он выходил на дальние пробежки по городским улочкам и аллеям. Болея на стадионе за местные команды, увлеченно писал документальный текст о кировской футбольной команде (по-русски уже вышла брошюра, а полный текст, оставшийся не вполне завершенным, готовится к публикации по-английски). Во многом под его влиянием и по его следам на Вятку приезжали и подолгу здесь работали другие американские ученые-историки – Саманта Ломб (Samantha Lomb), Аарон Ретиш (Aaron Retisch), Бен Эклоф (Ben Eklof).
    Часть праха Лэрри Холмса развеяна возле одного из зданий областного архива, где он обычно работал. Косогор, набережная, памятник Александру Грину, вид с высокого берега на реку Вятку и Дымковскую слободу за ней.
    Он и вправду любил нашу страну, наш город, наших людей. Нам надо это помнить и ценить.

  20. Like my colleague Pavel Chemodanov, I am from the city of Kirov (Vyatka), Russia. I have written a short text about Professor Larry Holmes for a Russian scientific journal. That is why it is in Russian. But I want his friends and colleagues to know that we here in Russia remember, love and appreciate him. Here are some excerpts from this text.
    Vladimir A. Korshunkov, PhD in History.

  21. Larry was a best friend. We shared so much of our lives, our interests in Russian history, our time together in Viatka/ Kirov and our personal dramas, each other’s drafts of manuscripts, but most importantly, matters of the heart, that at first I could not say or write anything. Many have mentioned his integrity, courage and seemingly unlimited generosity. He was also splendidly goofy, an endearing feature he seemed to be unaware of…..and it was this combination of scholarly distinction, a willingness to spend countless hours helping junior colleagues advance their research and careers, along with complete indifference when it came to clothes,food, the ( junky) cars he drove, and, lastly, his undying concern for abandoned, Ill and bedraggled animals, that made him so loveable and admirable.
    This October I and my colleague Aaron Retish, also familiar with the Gertsenka library and Kirov archives, hope to organize a round table dedicated to Larry’ s life and work at the annual conference of the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies in Philadelphia. Larry would be pleased, if embarrassed, to learn of this honor which is bestowed upon only the truly best scholars in our large, troubled but still important discipline. LARRY, old friend, I think of you daily, and despite the inevitable pain of loss, usually a smile comes to my face when i do so, and I believe that you all who knew him well can understand why.

  22. It’s hard to gather my thoughts after just now learning of Dr. Larry Holmes’ passing. I hadn’t heard from him in awhile and when my email was sent back to me this morning I feared the worse. I’m not surprised he passed away in Kirov, a place he loved, working on his latest monograph. It is fitting. His life story is worthy of a monograph and he lived it to the fullest. He was a mentor and inspired and guided me to studying Russian/Soviet History. Like many other students before his lectures using his own photos through a slide projector were revelations. He amazed me with his output of works. Just like he was as a runner, he always kept going. The first time I had seen him was not in a classroom but running on the side of University Blvd. uphill in the middle of a scorching hot day. I wondered who was this crazed man running in this heat! He lived and breathed history but he was a great person as well. We could talk baseball (or more recently soccer) or Russian education reform. He would lecture me on my bad habits and give me the best advice on things academic or life-related. He always kept in touch with me after graduating from the University of South Alabama. He cared and always expressed how he was proud of me for continuing on my path as a teacher. When I teach about Russia to my current students, his voice is there in the background and I can still see his face with his infectious grin and hear his laugh. I will never forget him and am lucky to have been part of his life.

  23. I’m temporarily in Ann Arbor Michigan until I go back to Russia in late December. On Fridays at 5:30pm at the post office here I swing by and amuse myself by talking to the peace hippies protesting the wars.

    One of the peace hippies is an old man, Pennsylvania Dutch, who writes for the local newspaper of the poor and outcast

    He mentioned Mr Holmes and reading his dispatches from Russia.

    I had heard of a Larry Holmes associated with the Workers World Party many years ago my friend didn’t think it was the same Larry Holmes. Who knows? Probably not though if Larry was optimistic about perestroika.

    One side of my family is Russian or Soviet and I found surviving family members in Moscow 4 years ago.

    I’m a communist and I despise the merchant criminal culture of the US so back to Russia I go in retirement.

    Anyway sad that I couldn’t connect with Mr Holmes but it sounds like he lived a full life.

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