Retirement in the plans for Holland

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DOVER — Connie Holland’s exit strategy from a nearly 50-year career formed through natural evolution.

Delaware’s director of the Office of State Planning Coordination has spent 20 years working for the state, which was preceded by a 29-year stint with the Kent County Planning Office. She’ll report for her last day of work on April 30 and then move into the retirement phase of her life.

“I started realizing that I would (turn) 75 (in May) and that I probably should dedicate a lot more time to my husband and my family,” Ms. Holland said.

“This job is something that I absolutely, positively love and I never wanted to leave. They said they were going to stuff me in the corner and I would be here forever. But we all know that couldn’t happen and the timing just seemed right for me personally.”

While Ms. Holland’s retirement made sense on a personal level, stepping away from her job, however, was a different matter. As a liaison between state and local governments, she’s built impactful, productive relationships throughout Delaware.

“Professionally I’m really having a difficult time with it because I love planning,” she said. “It’s been a difficult, difficult job that I absolutely loved to death because I met so many good people.

“I feel like I have friends in every town. There’s 60 local jurisdictions and I feel like they’re my friends and family. So not seeing them every day, not interacting, not helping them try to solve their problems, I’ll really miss that.”

During a recent meeting with Elsmere’s town manager, Ms. Holland grew emotional at the thought of stepping away.

“He said ‘You’re going to miss this Connie’, and I cried because I will. I absolutely will.”

Finding solutions to issues brought her much satisfaction, Ms. Holland said.

“I like getting things straightened out,” she said. “I like making a difficult process a little bit easier for the people to have to go through because I know if I didn’t have to work in this venue, I certainly wouldn’t understand it myself.”

Setting a path

Ms. Holland earned an Association or Arts degree in computer science from Delaware Technical Community College and attended Wesley College.

Beginning work with Kent County in 1973, Ms. Holland continued to escalate in her roles, and was appointed Levy Court’s planning director in 1993.

“I started answering telephones with Kent County Levy Court,” she said. “I was a receptionist so I heard all this planning.

“I heard all the questions. I interacted with the attorneys, planners, DelDOT, DNREC and whatever and I said to my mentor Robert O’Brien, the first planning director in Kent County, that I wanted to learn. So I worked my way up through the ranks with every job except the drafting job since I wasn’t very good at that.”

Ms. Holland said she was “very proud” of becoming the first female planning director in the state, and glad that other women followed in the role.

“I have a letter from (Mr. O’Brien) saying I broke the glass ceiling,” she said. “I really didn’t know what that meant at the time, I was just very grateful.”

Now, Ms. Holland can focus more attention on her husband of 58 years Richard, their two children and grandchild.

Since her husband built a greenhouse for her as a Christmas gift, Ms. Holland said, “I think you’ll see me in the garden a lot.”

Ms. Holland said she acquired a love of flowers from her grandmother who raised her in Smyrna along with two aunts, and the passion carried into gardening in general.

“I took up gardening ... so I could dig in the ground and take out my frustrations. Use it as a stress reliever,” she said with a laugh.

While there will be opportunity to travel to places like Maine and Savannah, Georgia, Ms. Holland may make some trips throughout the First State as well.

“I’ve been very lucky to know these little towns in Delaware. So I’d like to go back and visit them not be the planning director,” she said.

“I’ve been a lot of places but usually it was an avenue for planning, so I didn’t get a chance to go out and experience them as a visitor. I think I’d love to go back and visit some of those places now.”

Kudos and commendations

Delaware Gov. John Carney has been appreciative of her time spent in office.

“Connie is a true public servant, and has played an important role in Delaware’s community development efforts,” he said in an email.

“Not only has Connie thought about how economic development can positively impact all Delawareans, but she is also aware that we need to protect Delaware’s natural resources for future generations.

“We appreciate the passion that she has had for her work in the Office of State Planning, and the support and guidance that she provided to our agencies and local governments throughout Delaware.”

Working intermittently with Ms. Holland in various capacities since 1987, Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse said she “finds ways to work with other people to make things happen and to build consensus for projects. She is very easy to work with, listens to what others have to say, and provides great insight into various projects.”

According to Mr. Scuse, Ms. Holland’s biggest impact on the state came when helping orchestrate development of the Westown project in Middletown.

“That was the first time we had ever actually done a master plan and involved all the agencies in planning future development in a specific area,” he said.

“Because of Connie’s lead, that project received national awards and international recognition.”

Simply put, Mr. Scuse said, “Due to Connie’s efforts over the last 20 years in the Office of State Planning, she has made Delaware a better place to live, today and for the future.”

Delaware State Housing Authority Director Anas Ben Addi offered a glowing review of Ms. Holland’s contribution to the state as well.

“I have worked closely with Connie for a number of years through the Downtown Development Districts program,” he said.

“Throughout her career, she has established herself as a thoughtful decision-maker on state and city planning issues and has been a strong advocate for the continued revitalization of the downtown areas in our state’s towns and cities.

“Connie has spent more than two decades of her career serving the residents of Delaware, and I hope she enjoys a relaxing retirement for many years to come.”

In July 2000, Ms. Holland was nationally recognized with certification by the American Institute of Certified Planners. She was honored by the Delaware Chapter of the American Planning Association with the Peter Larson Memorial Achievement Award, being recognized for “a portfolio of work which has advanced the profession of planning in the state of Delaware.”

Ms. Holland was a Delaware Association for Public Administration of Public Service Award recipient in 2016, and recognized as an Environmental Steward by the Delaware Nature Society in 2020.