Sherman Holcombe Dies

Worker Activist At Dining Halls

Sherman L. Holcombe, a union shop steward and advocate for the rights of Harvard dining hall employees, died last night as the result of injuries sustained in an auto accident in Harvard Square March 12.

Students, faculty members, and dining hall employees united in defense of Holcombe after Radcliffe dining hall management suspended him in February 1976. Holcombe had submitted to the management a list of five grievances concerning safety conditions at the Radcliffe dining halls.

Richard J. Montville, Holcombe's supervisor, had said he suspended Holcombe because Holcombe cooked the cauliflower au gratin for dinner in the North House dining hall too soon.

Students and faculty members formed the Committee to Reinstate Sherman Holcombe, charging that Montville's explanation of the suspension was a cover for the dining hall management's decision to harass Holcombe for criticizing management practices.

Neal I. Koblitz '69, assistant professor of Mathematics and a member of the committee, said yesterday Holcombe "set a precedent for non-academic members of the Harvard community standing up for their rights."


"There have been few times in the history of Harvard when such a wide segment of the community was galvanized in support of the rights of workers on campus," he added.

A coalition of students and faculty members sponsored a boycott of brunch at North House one Sunday in February to protest Holcombe's suspension. Only 23 of the 300 students who normally eat brunch ate in the dining hall that morning.

Dining hall employees also circulated a petition demanding that the management reinstate Holcombe.

Holcombe helped initiate worker activism for kitchen employees. Edward Childs, co-chief steward of the Harvard dining halls' union, said yesterday.

"Sherman set an example for other workers to follow," Childs said.

Richard D. Weisman '78, special assistant to Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) and former Crimson editor, said Holcombe fought for better conditions for workers even though he was "terrorized" by his supervisors.

"His death is an incredibly tragic loss for all workers. Sherman was one of the most outspoken, friendly people I've known," Weisman said.

Luther M. Ragin Jr. '76, proctor at Greenough and co-founder of the Committee to Reinstate Sherman Holcombe, said yesterday. "What led to his disciplinary action was his vigorous campaign for kitchen workers. He was someone who cared a lot about the social conditions of his fellow workers."

John E. O'Neil, assistant manager of food services for the Freshman Union, said yesterday most of Holcombe's grievances were well-founded."

Holcombe went back to work for Harvard eight days after his suspension and was employed at the Freshman Union at the time of his death