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Remembering Ruth Denney


It’s no secret that Ruth Denney was a powerhouse of positive energy. She electrified people of all ages, especially young people, with a sense of their own possibilities and potential. Ruth inspired so many of us with her genuine enthusiasm for life and the arts.

Ms. Denney always possessed that wonderful power to make things happen. While teaching so successfully at Lamar High School, as she used to tell it, Ruth dreamed of opening a school specializing in arts education. At that time, other people bought into her dream as well, including educators Edward Trongone, Jean Nipper, and many others. Over the years, in fact, Ruth was so persuasive in selling that dream that it became a reality in the form of Houston's High School for the Performing & Visual Arts. Dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of young people found they had a stake in the dreams of Ruth R. Denney.

Ruth went on to great success and acclaim as a drama professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Upon retirement, she was designated professor emeritus. Ms. Denney passed away in 2007, just short of her 94th birthday.

I’m profoundly grateful to have known such a marvel of a woman, and that I had the good sense to buy into her dreams as well. What an honor it is to have played even a supporting role in a Ruth Denney production. What a rich and triumphant life! May God bless and keep her. I have no doubt the reviews from heaven will be glowing.

Mark Holden


Founding Class, HSPVA 1974 Instrumental Music

Mark Holden
Shirley Wiley - One of the Best I Ever Saw


Having had the privilege of studying English and Creative Writing with Ms. Wiley at HSPVA, it was apparent that she was 100% original and authentic.

I’m so grateful to have known such a gifted and dedicated teacher. Shirley Wiley was one of the finest educators I ever saw, in any discipline, at any level of study.

Splendid instructional technique; unconventional and inspired. Her object was to challenge young people to THINK. I’ve seldom encountered such ingenuity in the classroom or in life.

May God bless such marvelous educators.

Kabuki, anyone?


Mark Holden

Instrumental Music, 1974


Having studied with Mrs. Wiley at HSPVA, it was apparent that she was 100% authentic and original.

I mourn her loss deeply. Shirley was one of the finest teachers I ever saw, in any discipline, at any level of study.

Splendid instructional technique; unconventional and inspired. Her object was to challenge young people to THINK. I’ve seldom encountered such ingenuity in the classroom or in life.

May God bless such wonderful educators.

Kabuki, anyone? - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/houstonchronicle/shirley-walters-wiley-condolences/129948412?&page=6#sthash.AP1PbMOK.dpuf
Mark Holden
Tina Borja is tackling life, one project at a time


October 11, 2013 | Updated: October 12, 2013 10:53pm

All summer, and now into the fall, Jack, 16, has worn the same outfit: A white polo shirt, khaki shorts held up by suspenders, fuzzy socks and an aviator's hat with earmuffs.


Tina Borja, his mom, is half amused, half exasperated. Sometimes she looks at Jack's outfit and says, "What is wrong with you?"

Jack says, "These are all things you bought me."

"Yeah," says Tina, "but I didn't buy them for you to wear all at the same time!"

It's a ritual, one of those pieces of life that seem like they'll be repeated forever.

Red underwear

Tina got the diagnosis on Valentine's Day last year: The breast cancer that she thought she'd beaten was back. And it had metastasized to her brain.

At most, the doctors said, she had maybe five years. Internet research told her that they probably wouldn't be five good ones. She needed whole-brain radiation, a last-resort treatment that can lead to dementia. She worried that she'd lose her motor control, or her ability to speak, or her inhibitions. Maybe she'd end up running in the streets naked.

She began squaring her life away. She started with the biggest project that she thought she could definitely accomplish: finding the perfect new home for her dog ("Shuffling the Pack," March 11, 2012; "A new home for Buck," March 25, 2012). That worked: Now and then, Buck's new owner emails her reports of their mountain adventures.

Then Tina had more luck: The whole-brain radiation went better than she'd had any right to hope.

She tackled tougher projects. She was living in an apartment in the Heights: A great location, a great landlord, but not a place where you'd want to die. She wanted her boys and her boyfriend to have something more. And she knew that her mother, the counselor/minister - in charge of "the kumbaya stuff," Tina says - would want big deathbed saying-goodbye rituals. The apartment had no room for that.

So they moved a tiny bungalow to a tract of land in Acres Home. In February, even before the hot water was on, Tina moved in. Now she, her boyfriend and her two boys, Gabe and Jack, are packed tight - the house is maybe 800 square feet - but it's theirs.

On the back of the house, they built a big screened porch. We hung out there on a Saturday morning as a storm blew in: Tina, me, Jack, Gabe and Gabe's girlfriend, whom Tina adores. Tina - half amused, half serious - showed me her bottle of John of God pills, with a picture of the Brazilian healer on the label. She said that her mom had insisted that they send the guy a prayer request, a process that required a photo of Tina wearing white clothes against a white background. Tina threatened to wear red underwear.

She mimicked her mom's voice: "Tina! Just cooperate."

"Fine," she said, back in her Tina voice. "Then I won't wear any underwear."

The mandala

I looked up at the porch's high ceiling, where a giant circle of men's ties radiated out from a hole around the ceiling fan. "The mandala," Tina calls it: one of her sewing projects.

I was watching the way it billowed as the front blew in. Tina was noticing its loose edges, the ties' tips that drooped.

"I need to fix that," she said. "All my projects are like that. My whole life is a series of unfinished projects. I'm like, 'OK, this thing is done.' But then I see that it's not done."

"You'd climb up there on a ladder?" I asked, startled. Tina wears her headscarf in a way that looks a little pirate, a little gypsy. But I can't forget: It's about cancer.

Earlier this year, the remaining tumors started to grow again. This summer the edemas - the liquid gook around the tumors - pressed the brain around them, causing her to have three seizures, one after another; she remembers the ambulance but not the hospital. Now she takes seizure meds, and she's had cyberknife surgery, which seems to have had a good effect on the tumors. But there still are spots on her MRI, more chemo or cyberknife in her future. She didn't strike me as someone who should climb ladders.

Jack laughed - one of the first sounds he'd made all morning. "If she wants to," he said slowly, "she will."

He fiddled with a stuffed rabbit, a toy that Buck the dog had nearly chewed to bits, while his mom described her other projects: Her battle against the crazy ants that eat the house's wiring; the children's book she wants to publish; the addition she wants to build onto the front of the tiny house so that Jack will have a real bedroom, so that she can move the washer/dryer out of the little kitchen.

Last year, Gabe was at the top of Tina's project list. He was a high school senior then, visiting colleges and filling out applications. It worked: He and his girlfriend both got full-ride scholarships to the University of St. Thomas. He's confident, funny, at ease in the world. Tina figures her work on him is done.

Now she focuses on getting Jack launched in the world. Jack, who wears a hat with earflaps on a hot day. Jack, who's in the National Honor Society, taking tons of AP classes. Jack, who fills the big whiteboards in his bedroom with equations, or with the language that he's making up from scratch, or with notes for the book he's writing.

"Jack has zero interest in driving," Tina marveled. "When I was his age, everybody wanted to drive. Driving meant freedom."

"Why should I drive?" Jack asked. "Somebody will always take me where I want to go." Somebody, meaning Gabe or Tina.

"He's pretty good with the pedals," said Tina. "So at least there's that. But he does this thing … "

Jack looked intently at the stuffed rabbit.

"You know how when you make a turn?" Tina said. "You make the turn, then you let go of the steering wheel? Jack doesn't do that.

"I'm like, 'Let go!,' " she said. "But Jack doesn't. He doesn't let go. He holds on."

For a few seconds, there's nothing but the sound of the rain.

Ann Sieber
Regarding Craig Smith

With the very highest regard, I remember Craig Smith so vividly. He was gifted, versatile, and so giving of his talent to others. Craig was a phenomenal keyboardist - equally at home with jazz, pop, R&B, classical, Broadway, and more. Though a formally trained pianist, Craig latched onto jazz vocabulary and became a fiendishly adept improviser and accompanist.

With all that brimming ability, it was Craig's sense of humor that could reduce his friends to their knees. Anyone who ever heard him intentionally fracture a jazz standard knows what I'm talking about. Like a crazed, skilled surgeon - knowing precisely where to thrust the scalpel for maximum destruction - Craig could demolish a famous tune with satirical genius. You should've heard him sing & play "Misty." Just remembering it makes me laugh!

We lost Craig way, way too early - and I miss him to this day. He's one of those friends and musicians whose association I'll always cherish.

Mark Holden


Mark Holden
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