We lost a seminal figure in the world of web design this week. And I lost a good friend and mentor. Molly Holzschlag cared deeply for the web and those of us who till its soils.
This is a tough post to write, to be honest. It’s difficult to articulate just how influential Molly has been on my own work, my philosophical approach to web design, and my career.
Molly was warm and welcoming
Molly was there when I gave my first talk. 2003. COMDEX. I’d been invited out by the World Organization of Webmasters to give a talk on XHTML. The talk was solid. My delivery was atrocious. Molly was quick to come up after and congratulate me. I was floored.
I told her how excited I was to see her and Eric Meyer give a talk on CSS later in the day. She told me Eric had had to cancel his trip last minute and asked me if I would be interested in giving the talk with her. Just like that. I don’t know that she had any idea who I was (I’d only just published my first piece in A List Apart a few months earlier). But that was how Molly rolled. She saw my passion for web standards and somehow knew I’d be able to step up.
And gregarious. Her boisterous laugh was infectious and memorable. I can still hear it echoing in my ears.
Molly was generous with her time
I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone who gave as much of herself as Molly did. She always, always put others first, sometimes to her own detriment.
When I first met Molly, she was leading the Web Standards Project (WaSP). She poured her heart and soul into that organization and the cause of web standards. I lost count of how many events she spoke at, often on her own dime. She invited educators into her home to teach them how to properly teach the next generation of web designers and developers… for free.
She always put her advocacy for the cause first… a double edged sword we’ve since named advocacy fatigue. It took a toll on her—mentally, physically, and spiritually—and she took the occasional break from it, but she never gave up on the fight for a more egalitarian web.
Molly created opportunities for others
Another aspect of Molly’s giving nature was her insistence on opening doors for people, career-wise. I witnessed her pass along amazing opportunities that found their way into her inbox with an incredible amount of joy. Like doling out incredible gifts for a holiday.
One such gift she handed me was the opportunity to do some work with Adaptive Path. Through her introduction, I got the chance to work with an amazing team on several projects… all from my living room thousands of miles from their San Francisco offices. That was the kind of sway she pulled.
That work led to a part-time role (and health insurance) at Bolt|Peters, where I worked on Ethnio. That role gave me the freedom to quit my day job at an ad agency and begin building my own consulting business, which I launched a few months later and ran for over a decade.
All because of the doors Molly opened.
All because of the doors Molly opened.
And I was not alone. Wherever and whenever Molly saw an opportunity to help someone on their career journey, she would help them. Book contracts. Speaking engagements. Networking. Freelance work. If Molly saw any way she could help you, she did. No ego. No expectations. Selfless.
Her example is what inspired me to build my mentoring program. I don’t know that I can ever do as much good as she did for people, but she made me want to try.
Molly wanted the web to win
If you know Molly’s name, this is probably why. She was a staunch—and loud—advocate for web standards and accessibility. A veteran of the browser wars (and subsequent skirmishes), she knew the landscape and she knew how imperative it was for standards to emerge and for browsers to implement them consistently.
I wasn’t there for the meeting, but she told me Bill Gates tried to tell her the web was “done” ’round about the IE6 days and she yelled at him. While she wasn’t one to shy away from the occasional embellishment, she was just as unlikely to shy away from a confrontation over the viability and future of the web… so it would not surprise me at all to hear that she’d yelled at him.
Molly was a lioness—nurturing and maternal to the web and its denizens and a fierce protector when they were threatened. She saw the potential of the web as a great equalizer and bristled when folks would try to wall it off or exclude people—especially disempowered people—from accessing it.
That passionate support for the open web never wavered, even when Molly became ill. In fact we’d been talking about whether it might make sense to re-launch WaSP this year, a decade after we’d shuttered it because we thought the work was done—it wasn’t.
Molly will live on in our memories and our craft
Knowing Molly affected me. Deeply. Her kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity, and passion live on in everyone her life and work touched. Including me.
I don’t know what to make of a world without Molly, but I hate that we’re living in one. She truly was a force of nature and, as such, has left an indelible mark on this industry.
I’m so thankful to have known her. To have received her mentorship. To have called her a friend.
Goodnight Mols. I love you.
Other folks’ memories of Molly
- Faruk Ateş
- Deborah Edwards-Oñoro
- Meryl Evans
- Jason Grigsby
- Stephen Hay
- Jay Hoffman
- Bruce Lawson
- Matt May
- Eric Meyer
Know of others? Please share them.
@Aaron thank you for this lovely post which perfectly expresses the wonderful spirit of Molly ~ we will miss her, always. <3
@Aaron this a wonderful remembrance, hugs
@Aaron Such a lovely remembrance! I'm glad to learn I'm not the only one with her laugh - always from the bottom of her soul - echoing in my head.