She wrote her own obituary for the Times-Dispatch. "If you're reading this," she began, "I am gone." Hollister Lindley wasn't going to leave such an important task to a possibly less talented writer who might get the facts wrong.
This 6-foot-tall, striking redhead lived large. In the Richmond dining scene, Lindley towered. "God knows how many restaurants in this town would never have come to fruition without her," says Secco Wine Bar owner Julia Battaglini.
Although born in Illinois, Lindley grew up in Honolulu. In college, she studied drama, theater and French — profound influences. Although she built a sales career in medical supplies, she said cooking was her passion. After working all over the East Coast, Lindley wound up in Richmond, first with Owens and Minor, and eventually starting the Virginia Biotechnology Association. She won a grant to exchange biotechnology with Russia.
After early retirement, she worked for years as a restaurant reviewer for Richmond magazine, where I was lucky enough to find myself her editor. Lindley's knowledge of food was vast, comprehensive and there was no one writing in town that knew as much about Asian food as she did. Her reviews were infused with both the sheer pleasure she took in writing itself, but also her infectious passion for food — and more importantly, the people who made it.
"She was talented at many things," says Battaglini, "but excellent as a raw talent scout of sorts. She connected with certain people, wound them up and set them back down to take off."
The Underground Kitchen's Micheal Sparks was one of those people. "She was a force to be reckoned with," he says. "She inspired us to really do it — do the Underground Kitchen."
Her first symptom of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, struck in 2008. But ALS, it seemed, despite the wheelchair and special utensils she needed to eat, hardly slowed her down. She converted a van to get her around, and she continued dining out, rarely missed an event, wrote her reviews via dictation and tirelessly raised funds for ALS research.
Indomitable is a word thrown around carelessly these days, but for those who knew Lindley, it defined her in her last years. Shortly before I had to go on stage to co-host my first Elby awards — the annual Richmond restaurant awards — she whispered in my ear, "Don't worry about these assholes in the audience. You can do this. It was what you were meant to do."
I don't know if it was what I was meant to do, but it got me through the night, and, in 2014, those of us hosting the Elbys had the pleasure of giving Lindley its legacy award.
"A good six weeks ago," says close friend Robey Martin, "she stopped eating. It was her decision." The progression of the disease had been slow and Lindley was ready to go. The night before she died, she sipped rosé from a sponge.
"All the way up to the end, she was incredibly independent," Martin says.