By Milissa Holland
We’ve all had pivotal moments in our lives. This was a defining one.
On February 8, 2002, I got a phone call from my sister that my father had suffered a serious heart attack. He was in an ambulance, en route to the old hospital in Bunnell. My sister was on her way to pick me up to take me there. By the time she arrived at my house she’d received word that he hadn’t survived. I could see it the second she opened the door. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life. Even though my father was wheelchair-bound and we had a history of heart failure in our family, he was only 57. It was not something I was at all prepared to deal with. My father and I had become extremely close. Now I had to face a life without him.
So often when you are right in the midst of these life-changing events you tend to hear that everything happens for a reason. I believe that, difficult as it is to accept in the moment. I believed it just as much almost two months ago on Nov. 6, at the end of my run for the Florida House of Representatives, which my father’s inspiration had made possible.
Anyone who’s run for office knows the feeling. It can be exhausting and take a toll on you and your family. I also believe it’s a process worth pursuing, so I have no regrets for doing so. The people had their say, I respect that, and at the literal end of the day I found myself sitting with my daughter late that election night and telling her those famous words—that everything happens for a reason. I knew I needed to let some time and many conversations go by and I would figure it all out.
It happened faster than most people expected—my new talk show on WNZF, my column on FlaglerLive, becoming the incoming vice chair for the 1,000 Friends of Florida, an organization I have been very proudly affiliated with for many years. (I will be speaking to groups, organizations, policy makers and editorial boards throughout the State in the upcoming year on behalf of the group.)
But how I got here and why I am here has as much to do with where I’ve been as where I’m hoping to go, so for me to tell you about everything I hope to accomplish in my new endeavors, I feel it’s equally important to share some of the story that got me here.
Fifteen years before that fateful day when my father died, I remember sitting in my dining room in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and hearing my father tell my sister and me that we were moving. I’d grown up in the same house and had the same group of friends for 14 years. As you can imagine, news of our impending move was quite a shock. After explaining to us that his disease had taken a turn for the worse (my father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 27) and that he needed to live in a warmer climate, we quickly understood.
In 1987 there were just 10,000 residents in all of Flagler County when my father enrolled me and my sister at Flagler Palm Coast High School. It was a vastly different place than what we see today. Over the years I got acclimated to the community and began to appreciate its special treasures. I fell in love with the water and learned to surf to make friends quickly. I made friends in the western portion in the county and went mudding a time or two. It was a different experience entirely than how I’d grown up in Manhattan and the Hudson Valley but it forced me to see a different part of the Flagler and meet some wonderful people along the way.
While still in high school I ended up getting a job in the proshop at Hammock Dunes, met a lot of the ITT executives and heard how Palm Coast came to be. It was also a great way for me to learn how to play golf—a sport I enjoy to this day.
While I was familiarizing myself with Flagler, my father immersed himself in its government. He was always active in New York, where he’d been an AT&T executive. He was just as active in retirement on behalf of his community and the challenges facing it. With him it was always all or nothing. He was appointed to a few boards, attended every Flagler County Commission meeting and became a fixture in the community. From him I had the benefit of hearing about government, businesses and residents for years . It was an education. His connections all seemed like characters in a book (and it was nice years later putting a lot of the names with the faces).
The years passed as quickly as Palm Coast was changing. ITT was aggressively marketing the community. People were relocating by the droves. ITT had some successes relocating even a few companies.
But it became apparent to many at the time that Palm Coast could be better off determining its own destiny. My father was never a political figure until then. He converted around the time of Palm Coast’s incorporation. I had a front row seat to the process—one of those pivotal moments for him, for me, and of course for the community. Palm Coast became a city in 1999, and my father—Jim Holland—was among its founding council members. The city started with three employees when the council hired its first city manager (Dick Kelton, who followed interim manager Stan Denison). The rest, as they say, is history.
Over that period I had three children and was very content with being a stay-at-home Mom. Those proved to be some of the best years of my life. Just as with many things, we all live life as if our relationships are going to be there forever. Certainly we feel that when we are younger. I could have never imagined that one of the most painful times for me was right around the corner. It was then that my father died.
Just as events have played pivotal roles in my life’s trajectory, so have my children. A year after my father’s death my son looked at me one day and said that Grandpa would want you to go on and live life as if every day was your last. He was right. I attended a Palm Coast City Council City Council meeting—not necessarily the sanest way for anyone to make it past a mourning period, but you had to have known my father and me to know that that’s what we loved to talk about for years. It was in his blood, and he was in mine. I felt at peace and all of my father’s colleagues were very eager for me to volunteer my time to different committees. So I did.
After serving on a few committees and creating the James F. Holland Foundation, I had found what I was meant to do. It took a few years before I would run for the Flagler County Commission, but after a successful run, I now had an entirely new challenge in front of me. The last six years are too recent to call history, so I’ll spare you the details, but I do think it was important to share how I got there and to share how I look at where I am at this point. I shared a glimpse of my history to show how I approach things and explain how and why I have a rich history and understanding of Flagler, and a passion to save it.
It is that same passion that has driven me to this point, and is driving me forward.
How do I see the talk radio show on WNZF playing a useful role in our community? I had to make it completely interactive. For us to move issues that affect our community every day, we need to be able to have an open discussion. The best solutions are born out of listening to both sides of an issue and solving those problems together.
After serving all these years of public service throughout the state, and being part of many initiatives, I can say with certainty—as Tip O’Neill once did—that all politics is local. The decisions made every day on the national, state, regional and local levels have an equal effect on your everyday lives. So let’s start talking about them. I have been very fortunate to have had these moments in my life that have brought me to where I am today. I want to hear your stories: What’s important to you? What do you see as some of the challenges that are in front of us? What are some of the issues you would like me to take on?
Each Wednesday I will be writing my column for Flaglerlive on the topic of discussion scheduled for my talk radio show which will be live on Friday mornings at 10 a.m. The hour-long show on WNZF will feature guests in the studio and by phone. There are several ways to participate. You can call in on the show, you can Facebook me at Milissa Holland Live, you can tweet me at MHollandLive, you can email me at [email protected] (my laptop will be next to me), or comment right here on FlaglerLive in the two days leading up to the show: What is great about writing the column in advance is getting comments about the issues we will be discussing on Fridays. My website will be launched in a few days and each show will be podcasted and located on the site, as well as all of my columns.
As pivotal moments go, we may have one every Friday. But there is not a day that goes by that my father does not cross my mind. He was the largest influence in my life and in many ways still remains so even after all these years, as I’m sure he will when I’m on the air. His inspiration keeps me wanting to learn more each day, challenge myself in ways I never thought and love a community that brought me back to life after his death.
Milissa Holland, a Flagler County commissioner from 2006 to 2012, is host of Milissa Holland Live on WNZF 1550 AM, Fridays at 10 a.m. Her column will appear here every Wednesday. Reach her by email here, on Facebook or on Twitter.