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Holly Best, a Baltimore psychotherapist who helped families heal from trauma, dies

Holly Best treated addiction through a family lens, working as a psychotherapist for Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Towson.
Holly Best treated addiction through a family lens, working as a psychotherapist for Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Towson.

Holly Best, a longtime Baltimore psychotherapist and homeopath who helped families heal from trauma and addiction, died Aug. 14 at her home in Denmark, Maine. She was 73.

“She had a loving, compassionate heart, and a draw to help suffering,” said her sister, Heather Rhodes of Mystic, Connecticut. “She was soft, but she was tenacious.”

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Ms. Best had fought with a rare form of lymphoma for seven years. She chose to use Maine’s Death with Dignity Act, a law passed in 2019 that allows qualifying, incurably ill patients to receive life-ending medication. Best strongly advocated for the passage of the bill — which Ms. Rhodes said exemplified her courageous and trailblazing nature.

“The beauty of it is that she was able to use what she fought for,” Ms. Rhodes said. “It’s the bravest thing I’ve ever witnessed.”

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Ms. Best was born in 1947 in Waterford, Connecticut to Phyllis Jackson Rhodes Foster, a freelance writer, and William John Rhodes, an electrical contractor. The family lived in Connecticut through Best’s childhood, moving to Colchester and then Windham Center.

She loved riding horses, becoming a championship rider as a young girl and beating grown men in competitions. She cared deeply for horses and other animals from their childhood, Ms. Rhodes said.

“I’m not surprised she became a psychotherapist because she was the caregiver and the animal lover,” Ms. Rhodes said. “We would have a horse that was injured and Holly would be in there every day, swearing that the horse could be healed.”

Ms. Best graduated from Union Springs Academy, a boarding school in New York. She graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University in 1972. Later, she earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Connecticut, where she met her husband, Jack Wright, on a tennis court. A previous marriage of hers had ended in divorce.

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The two moved to Baltimore together, marrying at the Inner Harbor in 1989. Ms. Best worked as a psychotherapist for Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Towson, treating addiction through a family lens. She later opened her own treatment center, the Family Recovery Center.

“She had very innovative ideas, this idea of treating the whole family, not the individual,” Ms. Rhodes said.

Ms. Best was quoted in a 1992 article in The Sun about former U.S. President Bill Clinton opening up about his stepfather struggling with alcoholism. “The ease with which he talked about it . . . is refreshing,” she said.

After spending 24 years in Baltimore, the couple moved to Denmark, Maine. Ms. Best continued working in community mental health, becoming fast friends with Catherine McAllister, a clinical social worker in Brownfield, Maine.

“She has a gift for psychotherapy and for understanding the needs of clients,” Ms. McAllister said.

Ms. Best also practiced homeopathy, an alternative medicine based on the theory that the body can cure itself. She treated humans and animals, including McAllister’s dog who was struggling from separation anxiety.

Ms. Rhodes said her sister received numerous letters and calls from clients she’d helped over the years. On a GoFundMe page to raise money for Ms. Best’s cancer treatment, donors expressed compliments and gratitude. “I am alive today because of your love, compassion, wise advice, not to mention patience,” one person wrote.

Ms. Best and Mr. Wright were “real patrons of the arts,” both in Baltimore and in Maine, Ms. Rhodes said. They had an extensive blown glass collection, and attended galleries and concerts. Ms. Best also made art herself, starting up a gemstone jewelry business called HR Best Design.

Ms. Best was “one of the wisest people” Ms. McAllister had ever met, she said. Friends used to joke that if Holly said it, that made it true.

“If she said ‘That relationship isn’t going to work out,’ we’d think ‘Darn, that relationship isn’t going to work out,’” Ms. McAllister said. “She could see situations with great clarity.”

Mr. Wright died of cancer in 2012, just a couple of years before Ms. Best was diagnosed with lymphoma. Watching him undergo a painful, prolonged death made her determined to fight for Death with Dignity in Maine.

“I don’t think anyone should die like that,” she said in a 2016 video. “The legislature needs to look at this as a way of being compassionate for people who are suffering at the end of their life.”

A few days before her death, Ms. Best organized a Zoom farewell service with family and friends from all parts of her life. The service was beautiful, Ms. Rhodes said, with loved ones sharing favorite recollections of Ms. Best.

“For those few days before, she was bathed in a circle of love,” Ms. Rhodes said. “It was incredibly moving. It let Holly settle into her letting go.”

In addition to her sister, Ms. Best is survived by her brother, Jeffrey Rhodes, and his wife Carol Farnsworth of Denmark, Maine; nephew Ivan Rhodes Carija of Los Angeles; and stepsons Charlie Right of N. Windham, Connecticut and John Wright of Indiana.

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