Residents driving through Hinsdale, N.H., would often see Geoffrey Holt sitting on a bright-orange lawn mower by the side of the road. Sometimes people waved at him as they drove by. Sometimes he waved back.
That was about as much attention as Holt attracted. He preferred it that way, according to those who knew him. Holt, shy and quiet, was content to spend his days puttering around the trailer park where he lived frugally in a mobile home. He had fashioned a life so modest that he had faded into obscurity, even in a close-knit New Hampshire town of around 4,000 people.
But Holt was hiding a multimillion-dollar secret. Fittingly, he chose to reveal it only after his death. When Holt, 82, died in June, he left almost his entire inheritance - a sum of around $3.8 million, accumulated in investments - to the town of Hinsdale. The news was announced to the town in September, when a stunned community discovered, as if in a children’s fable, that its most unassuming resident was also its wealthiest benefactor.
“I just immediately think, that’s that story that you hear all the time,” Kathryn Lynch, Hinsdale’s administrator, told The Washington Post. “The millionaire next door. Somebody that you would never, never think.”
Holt, who was born in Indianapolis, moved to Hinsdale in the 1960s, according to Edwin “Smokey” Smith, a close friend of Holt’s who owned the mobile home park where he later settled. Holt worked as a social studies and driver’s education teacher and in a grain mill before retiring and moving to the trailer park, where Smith hired him as a handyman and groundskeeper.
Smith became friends with Holt after the two slowly began to strike up conversations from their doorsteps. Holt was shy and took to others slowly, Smith said. But Smith eventually discovered that Holt’s reserved demeanor hid the knowledge and passion of a dedicated hobbyist. Holt collected die-cast cars and model trains and spoke excitedly about automobile history. In his mobile home and a nearby shed, he assembled sprawling model train tracks flanked by hills carved from Styrofoam and piled his car collection across shelves and furniture.
“He was so proud of it,” Smith said. “You’d ask him, ‘What year car is this?’ … and he would tell you what year it was, and why it was made the way it was.”
Many in Hinsdale never saw that side of Holt. He spent most of his time in the quiet town away from the spotlight. Besides his collections, Holt lived modestly, Smith said. Health issues limited his mobility as he grew older, and his partner died in 2017. He was content to spend most of his time at home tinkering with model cars or driving his mower through the wooded grounds of the mobile home park, where he would sit by the roadside or near the bank of a brook bordering the grounds. He dressed plainly in clothes he rarely replaced. He owned an old car but never used it, opting instead to ride his mower to a nearby Walmart if he needed to shop.
Alison Holt, Holt’s sister, said her brother had been humble and quiet since childhood.
“He told me that his whole philosophy was to make sure that nobody ever noticed you,” said Alison Holt, who lives in California. “Don’t stand out, don’t do anything, or anybody will be able to criticize you.”
Only a few people knew that Holt had the means to change his life in an instant, if he had chosen to do so. Several years before his death, Holt had told Smith that he had made investments early in his career that were performing well. But Smith said that Holt seldom withdrew from his investment account, even as it reached millions of dollars, except to pay tax bills.
It was an odd life. But it made sense to Smith, who saw contentment in Holt’s simple routine.
“He liked his world, and he liked to be in charge of it,” Smith said. “And by keeping it small, he was.”
Holt had no children, and he had discussed his inheritance with his sister, who told him she didn’t need the money either. So he decided to leave it to Hinsdale, a community that mostly knew him as a curious character on the side of the road.
“What else do you do?” Smith said. “This was home.”
The decision reflected another side of Holt that he seldom got to showcase, Smith said: a kindness and eagerness to help. As a groundskeeper at the trailer park, Holt rushed to help his neighbors weed and mow their lawns. Now, he could leave Hinsdale with a multimillion-dollar gift - and cannily do so when he wouldn’t be around to endure the limelight afterward.
Holt’s health issues worsened in 2022, and he died in June after moving to an assisted living home. Smith became his executor but was advised by attorneys to wait before deciding how to pass on the money to the town. Eventually, he made arrangements to transfer Holt’s investment account, which had swelled to around $3.8 million, to the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, which will manage the fund and issue grants to the town. In September, Smith walked into the town administrator’s office and told Lynch about Holt’s gift.
“You feel like you’ve won the lottery,” Lynch told The Post.
Hinsdale residents reacted in shock as news spread of the gift and its surprising donor. Steven Diorio, the chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, said he was one of the passersby who would wave to Holt on his mower. He was floored to discover that he had been greeting a multimillionaire.
“It’s a wonderful, tremendous gift to our little town,” Diorio said. ” … We’re not a rich town by any means at all, and it’s going to make a big difference.”
As of now, Hinsdale leaders are still determining how to spend the money, Lynch and Diorio said. Holt’s will instructed that the money be used to benefit the town’s education, recreation, health and culture initiatives. Smith suggested that the town, which counts ballots by hand, purchase an electronic ballot machine to honor Holt, who always voted in elections. The town is also considering naming something in Holt’s memory, according to Diorio.
As officials deliberate, Holt’s story has spread far beyond Hinsdale, generating the attention he had hidden from all his life. The Brattleboro Reformer first reported on Holt’s donation in late October. The Associated Press followed with its own story Tuesday, sparking a new wave of interest.
What would Holt think if he could see the headlines about him now?
“It would embarrass him, I think,” Smith said. ” … But he would be happy that people are appreciating what he’s done.”