Local Obits

Obituary of Dr. Dorothy (Nielsen) Holmes

July 21, 1933 — December 19, 2023

Dr. Dorothy (Nielsen) Holmes, 90, passed away peacefully on December 19, 2023, in Groton, New York following an extended illness.

Born in Wakefield, Massachusetts on July 21, 1933, to the late Selma B. and Paul C. Nielsen, Dorothy grew up in Staten Island, New York where she attended Curtis High School, graduating in 1951.

While growing up, Dorothy’s intense interest in animals made her a fixture at the Bronx Zoo and its educational programs and led her to spend her summers away from the city on a prominent dairy farm in rural New Hampshire. After high school, she attended Cornell University where she earned a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) in 1958, joining a then very small number of females in the country to have earned this distinction.

While pursuing her undergraduate studies, Dorothy met and later married her husband, Wallace E. Holmes (Wally), who was likewise pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine. After earning their degrees and obtaining their licenses to practice, they moved to Groton to raise their growing family and established Groton Veterinary Hospital, a private general animal practice that served the surrounding communities for more than 60 years.

After the first few years running the practice together with Wally, Dorothy elected to return to Cornell to pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology, which she earned in 1973. She stayed on at Cornell to teach and conduct research for many years until her retirement in 1991 from the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Department of Microbiology, and Immunology. “Dr. Dotty” as she was known by her colleagues and students, was highly regarded by her peers as an infectious disease specialist. She was a frequent presenter to both domestic and
international research community audiences throughout the years and her research on intranasal, temperature-sensitive, live-modified vaccines led to the development of the first patented nasal vaccines for multiple
strains of equine influenza.

Beyond her research and teaching, Dotty served on the admissions committee for the Vet College for many years, and was also active in the Class of 1958 alumni association, serving as social chair and hosting
Reunion events.

Meanwhile, Dotty realized one of her life-long dreams – – owning a horse — after she and Wally received a gift in the late 60’s of a lovely Arab- Welch Pony cross from Dotty’s long-time friends and owners of the New Hampshire dairy where she had spent summers during her high school years. This naturally required a barn, so Dotty and Wally built one adjacent to their home and an on-site veterinary hospital in Groton.

One thing led to another and before long they acquired another horse, their first registered Morgan Horse who Dotty immediately picked out from among a large herd of contenders galloping over a ridgeline as if vying to be the one selected. Dotty’s keen eye was on target in choosing T.I. Red Lady who became the foundation broodmare under their farm name, Homespun Morgans, producing multiple regional and national champions over the years, including Homespun Commotion and Homespun Lady Command. The latter, Lady Command, gave Dorothy the thrill of being the one holding the reins to take a victory pass after winning the lady’s pleasure driving class at the New England Morgan Horse Show in 1983. With their horse operation established and growing, Dotty and Wally spent many summers juggling careers, kids and community engagement around the summer horseshow circuit.

Back in Groton, Dorothy was an active member of the Groton Community Church congregation for many years. During one Sunday service, the pastor announced from the pulpit his thanks for the contribution of the Holmes family to the musical flair of the services as Wally and their four children all sang in the church choir. The pastor
went on to say, “Mrs. Holmes doesn’t sing” which Dotty then repeated for years to fresh peals of laughter each time as in fact she was pretty much tone-deaf. Although singing was not her forte, cooking was a different story. Incredibly talented in the kitchen, Dotty treated her family to years of delicious meals and likewise shared her love for cooking and entertaining with friends and the community. This includes regularly volunteering at the annual community harvest supper at the church where Dotty, in collaboration with other volunteers from the
congregation, would prepare and serve dinner for hundreds in the community. Dotty’s desserts were in high demand, and it was a well-kept secret among other volunteers that they would set aside a few slices of her famous pies for themselves to be sure they would get a piece before it was gone!

Dorothy is preceded in death by her parents, Selma (Roche) and Paul C. Nielsen, and her brother, Paul V. Nielsen. She is survived by her husband, Wallace E. Holmes, D.V.M. of Groton, NY, daughter Barbara E. Holmes of Phoenix, AZ, son Stephen W. Holmes of Groton, NY, daughter Cynthia J. Holmes and son-in-law Robert D. Williams of Los Angeles, son William T. Holmes and daughter-in-law Christine (Monchamp) Holmes of Groton, NY, and five grandchildren: Emilie Holmes of Dallas, TX; Camille Holmes of Ithaca, NY; Robert, Ryan and Brett Williams of
Los Angeles, CA.

Service of celebration of life will take place at 4:00pm on January 6, 2024, at Shurtleff Funeral Home in Groton. Friends may call from 2:00-4:00pm preceding the service. In remembrance of Dorothy’s life, the family suggests that any charitable donations be made to Cornell University, Veterinary Medicine Research Fund: https://www.vet.cornell.edu/giving/research

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