Bob Holzman, Director of Safety & Security at The Madeira School, has seen a lot during his 35 years on staff and worked for five Heads of School.
Multiple generations of girls came, learned, and went on to conquer; national celebrities and political figures passed through the campus gates, sometimes with secret service agents in tow (more on that later); and an unforeseen scandal forever changed the school.
Holzman, 66, recently announced that he would be retiring Tuesday. He plans on spending more time with his grandchildren in Virginia Beach, as well as with his wife. In the long term, they are considering a move to New Mexico. “Basically anywhere where I don’t have to look at snow,” he says.
It would be a rough loss for McLean if he goes. In addition to his constant presence behind the white fences that line Madeira’s 450 acres on Georgetown Pike, Holzman has become a fixture in the McLean community, serving on the McLean Police Citizens Advisory Committee, and working with local police and fire squads to ensure the safety and welfare of all McLean residents.
In person, Holzman gives the impression of tirelessness, and strikes anyone who doesn’t know him better as a stern and commanding figure. He routinely notes the hour in military time, and refers to all Madeira girls as “young ladies.”
In 2008, Holzman received Madeira’s prestigious Virginia W. Peddle Community Service Award. Patricia Terrell, Executive Assistant to the Head of School, wrote in her nomination of Holzman that, “If anyone eats, breathes, and sleeps The Madeira School, it would be Mr. Holzman. He's made the welfare of this community his top priority. He manages to secure almost 400 acres and over 400 people and keeps his good humor in tact.”
Holzman’s good humor is evident when he describes his many years spent at the century-old, private, all-girls boarding school as “ lots of fun.”
Holzman began at Madeira part-time, when the security department’s sole responsibility was keeping people in and out of school grounds. But he soon led the charge to reorganize the department, so it was more fully integrated with day-to-day school operations. He also opened the gates, so to speak, for local police and fire teams, which he recognized as integral to keeping the school safe.
“We started a program where the fire department uses the campus for training,” Holzman explains. “We ran a drill with McLean responding units where we mocked up casualty victims, as though a building had exploded. It was very successful. Afterward we invited all the units for a picnic.”
This activity highlights one of Holzman’s major goals of his career. “If Madeira needed assistance, I wanted to make sure we’d get assistance,” he says. “It is a very good partnership [between McLean police and fire teams]. If we need help, we holler.”
Bill Trapp, who succeeded Holzman as the chairman of the McLean Citizens Advisory Committee, calls his colleague a “dedicated supporter of The Fairfax County Police Department.”
“Bob likes to tell how he remembers some of the higher ups in the police department when they were just new officers on the beat,” Trapp says.
Holzman’s job also required him to work with a more elite squad of security officials. When then-first lady Hilary Clinton delivered a speech at Madeira in 1999, Holzman worked with Secret Service for about four weeks prior to the event. It is the only time he described his job as “stressful.”
“The secret service was very thorough,” he says. “They needed someone to give them a lay of the land. We found nooks and crannies where they could place agents.”
The thing about Madeira, which is partially covered by a forest, is that there are a lot of nooks and crannies. And that, Holzman explains, is the rub. “It’s always been a challenge to know who is on the property. We have 450 acres. So there are a lot of ways in.”
Under Holzman’s leadership, the security team at Madeira always erred on the side of caution when it came to protecting their own. In 2008, Fairfax County proposed that a one-mile long trail be built through Madeira’s property, connecting Scott's Run Park to Great Falls National Park. Holzman went to the Board of Supervisors to object, citing safety concerns.
“There is no access to that far part of the property,” he says today, underscoring just how important it is to have eyes on all corners of the school.
That includes keeping tabs on another sort of person—the school’s girls, who might be less interested in getting in, and more interested in getting out.
“One year around when I first started,” Holzman remembers, “a group of young ladies were supposed to be at the spring formal. But at bedtime they weren’t found. We spend the evening looking for them.”
Eventually someone back on campus gave them up, and the escapees were found in D.C. That taught him a good lesson that he carried with him throughout his career. “The good thing about the young ladies at Madeira is they talk to each other,” he says.
And sometimes, things happen that are just beyond his control.
“I worked for Jean Harris for a year,” he says, citing the infamous Madeira headmistress convicted of killing her lover Dr. Herman Tarnower, author of the Scarsdale Diet in Scarsdale, New York in 1980. “There was all kinds of shock and horror,” he says, describing the aftermath of the scandal. “Lots of, ‘no, that can’t be.’” When reporters descended onto campus, Holzman helped with crowd control, and to calm the nerves of a truly shaken school. He was, as he still is, the face of perfect calm in the midst of gales.
“Madeira has a motto,” he says in response to a question about what he’ll take from the school. “Function in disaster. And finish in style.”