Not only was Susan Holden an exceptional educator and author, but also an advocate for teachers whose first language is not English and a compassionate supporter of younger professionals.
Susan and I co-authored “Teaching English Today: Contexts and Objectives,” a collaborative project that united our shared passion for empowering English teachers worldwide. Throughout this journey, Susan’s dedication to promoting inclusivity and equity in language education always stood out. Her advocacy for teachers whose first language is not English showcased her commitment to fostering an inclusive and diverse educational landscape and I felt privileged to have benefited from her guidance.
Working with Susan was a real present. Her knowledge and insights into the challenges faced by educators and English learners from diverse linguistic backgrounds were invaluable and her tireless efforts to bridge the gap and create a more supportive environment for teachers and learners were truly inspiring. Beyond her advocacy, Susan was a mentor and a guiding light for younger professionals entering the field. Her nurturing spirit and willingness to offer support was exemplary. Many of us owe our growth and confidence as educators to her mentorship and encouragement. I most certainly do.
In this difficult time, my thoughts are with Susan’s family and loved ones. May they find strength in knowing that her contributions to the educational community will live on and continue to inspire positive change.
Rest in peace, dear Susan.
It is with a heavy heart that I share the news of the passing of Susan Holden, a remarkable figure in the field of English Language Teaching (ELT). Susan leaves behind an enduring legacy that has profoundly impacted the ELT community worldwide. Her dedication, innovative spirit, and unwavering commitment to advancing language education have shaped countless careers around the globe. To me she was a source of inspiration and knowledge and I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to meet her a few years ago. Her warmth and generosity, always ready to lend a helping hand and offer unwavering support, will live forever in my heart. Rest in peace, dear Susan, you will be sorely missed.
I first met Susan in her professional editorial and publishing capacity well over 40 years ago when she accompanied her husband, Donn Byrne, to give a talk at the British Council, Lisbon where I’d recently been employed as a young teacher. I remember Susan from that initial encounter as fearsomely intelligent and knowledgeable about ELT with a sharp, enquiring mind, lively curiosity and genuine interest in finding out about what we teachers actually did in the classroom and why. And, although I didn’t realise it at the time, that approach and attitude was a hallmark of Susan’s professional life, whether working as editor, publisher, writer, teacher educator or conference speaker: her ability to interrogate theory and research and apply it to the real needs, concerns and constraints of classroom practitioners in an understanding and humane way.
Over the years, I met up regularly with Susan at IATEFL and other conferences and we invariably always found time for a coffee and chat together. Although I never worked directly with Susan, she was incredibly kind and generous to me with her professional advice and support, and I know that I am one of many in this respect. She also had a wicked sense of humour which built a delightful bond and always made those encounters even more enjoyable. Susan was also immensely thoughtful: on several occasions she dropped me a line with comments and feedback after she’d been to one of my talks and, when I was slightly apprehensive about becoming President of IATEFL in 2013, her view of having a person involved in teaching young learners in this role, to enable IATEFL to reach more teachers globally, was tremendously encouraging.
Susan was also a long-time colleague and friend of my husband, Alan Matthews, and on several occasions, she came to have dinner with us at home. One time, in the early days, when we were living in a small flat in central Madrid, I remember her tolerating with great good humour the early evening antics of our two small children and even reading them a bedtime story. More recently, and indeed the last time we both saw Susan in an extended way, we spent much of an evening fondly reminiscing over events and people and how ELT and publishing have changed. Susan also kindly invited us to go and stay with her in Scotland although, due to the pandemic and various other reasons, that unfortunately never happened.
In many ways, the loss of Susan feels for me as if it marks the end of an era in ELT. Susan was special not only in her ELT knowledge, publishing, editorial and writing skills but also in her kindness and generosity in sharing this with others. Alan and I feel fortunate to have known Susan as a colleague and friend over so many years. She will be sorely missed by us and by many.
On a Thursday this past July, my dad and I drove up to see my brother and his family at the house they’d rented on a barrier island in North Carolina, USA. As I punched the address on Holden Beach, NC, into Google Maps, I thought about Susan and that I should write her and tell her I was visiting ‘her beach’ that day. About 10 days later, I found out she was gone. I can’t believe she’s gone.
I’m not sure exactly when I first met Susan Holden. I think it may have been Medgyes Peter who introduced us to each other at IATEFL Glasgow in the spring of 2017. It was my first IATEFL conference and I was there representing the Slovak Chamber of English Teachers of which I was also chair. Peter had been the opening plenary at our first conference, in 2015 in Bratislava, and he’d just updated his book on the native/non-native speaker issue and Susan was there handing out free copies as the publisher. She was so very gracious, so kind, and a force of nature, I would learn.
A couple of months later, at the suggestion of Mark Andrews, she messaged me offering to host a panel discussion on native/non-native speakers in ELT at our next conference that fall in Slovakia …and give us enough copies of Peter’s book for every attendee (there were over 200). She would load up her car and drive them from her home in Scotland to Nitra. I had never met anyone like Susan before.
Not only did she come to that conference, she also came to the next one the following year, this time driving further, to Kosice. She did workshops, hosted panel discussions, and sat in on our AGM at both conferences. She invested into us as an association; she became a friend.
We continued to bump into each other at various conferences in the region and chat online about a variety of things, from teaching to Brexit.
In 2020, I was assigned the BA Intro to ELT Methodology course at the faculty of arts where I teach and in searching for resources, discussed it with Susan who promptly arranged for my students to be able to get her book (coauthored with Vinicius Nobre) at a discount. She’s made sure that happened for the past 3 years. She also requested – and received – students’ feedback on the book in hopes of an updated edition.
The first time I taught that course in 2020 was online, during lockdown. And Susan offered to ‘come’ to our last class and do a Q&A on methodology. She did that, sharing her life with yet another generation of EFL teachers. She offered to come in the spring of 2022 as well. She was always so willing to give.
This past January, Susan was in town working on a project and we were supposed to get together for coffee her last day here, but she wrote saying she couldn’t make it as she wasn’t feeling well. Even though I was worried about her, she assured me that we’d go for that coffee in March. After a brief email exchange in March, there were no more emails.
And so when I visited Holden Beach 3 weeks ago, Susan was much on my mind. A friend who gave with no expectation of anything in return other than friendship and the promise of passing it on. Her passing came as a shock. She will always be much loved and dearly missed.