Alexander Fraser Holser, 84

Physicist worked for the CIA and the Department of the Interior

September 02, 2007

Alexander Fraser Holser, a physicist retired from the CIA and the Department of the Interior, died Aug. 24 at the Pickersgill retirement community in Towson of cancer and complications from a fall. He was 84.

Mr. Holser, who was born in Bakersfield, Calif., graduated from Moore Park High School in California. He began attending the California Institute of Technology but went into the Army during World War II, serving for three years until 1946.

After his service, he resumed his studies at Cal Tech as an undergraduate research fellow, earning a physics and mathematics degree in 1948. He then became a research physicist at the school and earned a graduate degree in 1951.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, Mr. Holser worked as a research engineer and physicist at a number of California firms, including what was then Lockheed Missiles and Space, where he designed satellite systems.

In 1963, he moved to Washington to work for the CIA as a scientist, designing and operating intelligence collections systems. The agency awarded him the Certificate of Distinction.

His work with the CIA was classified, and not even his wife knew exactly what her husband was working on.

"It was so top-secret that I never really knew," Annetta Tenchini Holser said. "I asked him if he was a spy, and he said no."

The two married in 1972 after meeting at a coffee shop in Reston, Va., run by the Episcopal church where they both volunteered.

She said she was looking for a seat to relax with a cup of coffee after her shift. "He just pushed the chair out and said, `Why don't you sit down?'" she said. "That was the beginning."

Mr. Holser was able to drop the cloak of secrecy in 1975 when he left the CIA to become the Department of the Interior's assistant secretary of energy and minerals. He later became assistant secretary of water and science.

He served as the department's representative to the United Nations' third law of the sea conference and to the interagency group on Antarctic and oceans policy.

Mr. Holser retired as a senior technical adviser in 1989 and then worked as manager for the Maryland Ballet Company, where his wife was the director, and for the Baltimore school system's special-education division.

"He arranged locations, rehearsal times, payroll -- all the nuts and bolts of running a ballet company," his wife said. "He always was interested in learning."

Mr. Holser liked to work with wood and weave baskets. Before he was married, he played bagpipes and enjoyed Scottish dancing.

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Carrollton condominium complex, 3601 Greenway in Baltimore.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by children from his first marriage, Anita Holser of Oregon, Sigrid Holser of Baltimore and Malcolm Holser of Merced, Calif. His first wife, Manon Harder Holser, died in 1960. His second marriage, to Iola Holser, ended in divorce.

He is also survived by stepchildren from his first marriage: Camille Holser of Oakland, Calif., Douglas Holser of Los Angeles and Reese Holser of San Jose, Calif.; stepchildren from his third marriage, Annetta Hanna of Maplewood, N.J., Juliet Komisarcik of Bristol, Va., and Laura Guggenheim of New York City; and a number of grandchildren.

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