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Thomas Martin Holder

September 1, 1926 — November 6, 2023

Aiken, South Carolina

Thomas Martin Holder


September 1, 1926 – November 6, 2023


          Thomas Martin Holder, M.D., pediatric surgeon, teacher, academic researcher and author, died in Aiken, SC, on November 6, 2023, at age 97, after a productive and satisfying life.  He was a man of integrity and tenacity, loyal to his family and committed to professional excellence.  He performed general and heart surgery for thousands of infants and children in Kansas City over a period of decades.


          Tom was born September 1, 1926, in Corinth, Mississippi, to S.S. Holder and Ethel Martin Holder.  He enlisted in the US Navy at age 17 in World War II, and served as an electrician’s mate on a ship maintaining the anti-submarine nets in San Francisco Bay.  He attended Ole Miss and graduated from Wake Forest Medical School, in North Carolina.  That is where he met Kathryn Robinson, a vivacious and insightful teacher, whom he subsequently married.  Tom did seven years of specialty residencies in general surgery, thoracic surgery, and pediatric surgery in Philadelphia with Dr. John Gibbon and in Boston with Dr. Robert Gross, titans of thoracic and pediatric surgery.  Dr. Holder was the chief surgical resident at the Boston Children’s Hospital, and a teaching fellow at Harvard University.


          Dr. Holder moved to Kansas City in 1960 as the first Surgeon in Chief at Children’s Mercy Hospital and dedicated his career to patient care and developing a top-notch, accredited residency training program in pediatric surgery, teaching medical students and residents, authoring 133 scholarly articles and book chapters and several books, including “Pediatric Surgery,” by Thomas M. Holder and Keith W. Ashcraft.  He was a leader in professional service, winning the 1997 Ladd Medal from the Surgical Section of the American Academy of Pediatrics, winning the medical students’ Jayhawker Teaching Award for the professor “who has shown the greatest devotion to his primary duty as a teacher,” serving as president of the American Pediatric Surgical Association and winning its Distinguished Service Award, chairing the Surgical Section of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and notable others.  When Children’s Mercy Hospital withdrew its affiliation from the University of Kansas in order to become part of the formation of UMKC, he changed his academic affiliation to the University of Kansas.  After ten years at KU, he established a private practice and returned to Children’s Mercy Hospital as Chief of the Section of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.  He loved being a pediatric surgeon, channeling his drive and skill to help heal young people who could go on to enjoy rewarding decades of life.


          In his retirement years, Tom repurposed his remarkable small-motor skills from surgery to designing and building fine cherry furniture, fly-tying and fly fishing in nature’s beautiful remote waters, hiking from his cabin in Colorado, and continued duck-hunting, wind-surfing, and serving Children’s Mercy Hospital. In recent years, he suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, yet he recognized and appreciated his family members and friends, who provided unwavering and enduring support, and he tapped simple rhythms on his drum board even in his final days.  He lived his motto fully: “Tenacity is the common denominator for success.”


          Dr. Holder is survived by his wife, Kathryn R. Holder, their three children, Celeste Holder Kling (Robert), Thomas Martin Holder, Jr. (Becky), and Kathryn Holder Viele (Steve), three grandchildren, Kali Holder (Kaden Borseth), Matthew Kling (Zoe Sheldon), Alexis Hoffkling (isele Harper), and two great-grandchildren, Wylie Holder Jewett and Sylvie Huntington Jewett.


The family will have a private celebration of life at a later date; no funeral is planned.


In lieu of flowers: Children’s Mercy Hospital for the Holder-Ashcraft Chair in Pediatric Surgical Research.

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