'No rocking chair for me'

'Gone with the Wind' baby and Barry Goldwater's former son-in-law has remained upbeat while battling diabetes
Ric Holt is photographed in 2003, after he left office as Jackson County commissioner.

Colorful and quotable, Ric Holt was a particularly flamboyant Jackson County commissioner for 12 years before leaving office in 2002.

Well-known locally for his roles both as a politician and as Melanie's baby in the film classic "Gone with the Wind," Holt has retreated from the limelight in recent years as he battles diabetes.

15 Minutes of Fame

... and then what?

A series of followups on newsmakers in the Rogue Valley

Sunday — Ryan Sheaffer of Medford, 2005 contestant on "The Bachelorette"

Monday — Windfall, a black bear raised by two "mountain men" in Coos County

Today — Ric Holt, former Jackson County commissioner

Wednesday — Northgate and Alba Village, developments planned on the former Medco property in Medford

Thursday — Matthew Johnson, Grants Pass psychologist who says he saw Bigfoot

Friday — Wes Cooley, former Congressman who lied about service in Korean War and was later indicted in money-laundering scheme

Saturday — Branden Rickman, Crater High School grad who won "Make Me a Supermodel" in 2009

"There's no rocking chair for me," said the 72-year-old, who lives in rural Ashland. "It's more like an electric scooter with only one leg left and a few toes left on the other foot."

Holt said doctors tried to save the leg, but gangrene set in and his leg had to be amputated below the knee.

Despite his health problems, "I'm very fortunate," he said. "I've got a great set-up at home. I put my (artificial) leg on every day or so, then I walk on it a bit before it gets a little painful."

Holt left office under a cloud of scrutiny, losing to current Commissioner Dave Gilmour in the 2002 general election. He took hits for everything from approving commissioners' pay raises to expensing a $177 box of Godiva chocolates through the county. After the election, he said he'd had enough of the attacks by the Mail Tribune and the Ashland Daily Tidings.

"With two 800-pound gorillas that buy ink by the barrel against me, it's hard to win, " Holt said after his loss. "It's the way you guys, the gorillas, slant things."

Now, he laughs off his defeat and the bad press.

"They can't say anything worse against me," he said.

Holt said he briefly thought about running in the recent November election, but decided against it because of the strong slate of commissioner candidates.

He said he might give it another shot in a future election.

If Commissioner Jack Walker, who had a liver transplant two years ago and was defeated in the May primary, ever makes another run for re-election, Holt said he might take him on.

"With a new liver and me with one leg we could trade body parts," he joked.

Walker remembers Holt as a man who had a life rich with experience, recounting stories of his work with Gulf Oil, traveling around the world on the racing circuits.

"He was fun to work with, and had a lot of funny things to say," Walker said. "You never knew what to expect."

Holt has been involved for several years in marketing a fuel additive known as MTBE that he says would lessen pollution. He still stands behind the product, even though it hasn't received as much traction as he would like.

"It's money and politics," he said. "The product works. There are some very greedy people who won't let you in the marketplace."

He said the fuel additive should be particularly helpful as politicians clamor for emissions controls and worry about climate change.

Holt was born in Studio City, Calif., into a family of actors. His brother, David Jack Holt, appeared in movies along with stars such as Mickey Rooney. His sister, Betty Holt, was a child actress.

As a 1-year-old, "Ricky" was in his mother's arms on the set of one of his brother's movies when "Gone With The Wind" author Margaret Mitchell recommended him for the part of Melanie's baby.

Holt is seen holding a wooden spoon while some starving Confederate soldiers stop at the Tara home during the Civil War.

Holt appeared in other small acting parts and in commercials. He was married to Peggy Goldwater, daughter of Barry Goldwater, until 1975.

His first job was sweeping out a liquor store, but eventually he worked for Gulf Oil in Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida. Then he made some money off real estate.

"I was lucky enough to buy property near Huntington Beach, right across from the pier," he said.

In 1984, Holt and his family decided to move to the Rogue Valley because he felt it would be a better place to raise his five children.

"Maybe I could see into the future," he said. "I knew things were not going to go right in the big city. I'll be damned if I raise kids in that atmosphere."

Holt took on some causes over the years that earned him both praise and criticism. He steadfastly supported the now-defunct Elk Creek Dam project, but also wanted to bring passenger rail to the valley, a passion that has not slackened with time.

"I would love to get that railroad going again," he said. "It's a shovel-ready thing."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

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