Richard Holmes, retiring International Director of Meetings

Richard Holmes Retires: The End of an Era

4 May, 2020

As of April, 2020, Richard Holmes has retired as International Director of Meetings (IDM) for ILAE and IBE. It is the end of an era for our two organizations that has been characterized by tremendous growth and prosperity.

Richard was Director of the Irish IBE chapter, Brain Wave, when he was elected Treasurer of IBE for the 1993-97 term, which began at the 1993 International Congress in Oslo. The Oslo congress was a landmark event for ILAE; whereas previous congresses had been relatively modest affairs, attracting a few hundred delegates, over 2,000 attended the meeting in Oslo. This was largely credited to a new phenomenon, which was to become even more prominent over the next few decades – local pharmaceutical company support for large numbers of physicians to attend international congresses. Until this time, congress surpluses provided only modest, but still important, income for our organizations. It wasn’t apparent at that the time, but Oslo heralded a paradigm shift in the business of international professional organizations.

When Richard became Treasurer of IBE, I became Treasurer of ILAE, and our first joint assignment was to scout Prague as a future congress site. More care in selecting congress venues was considered essential, if they were to continue to be as large as Oslo. It was in this beautiful Art Nouveau city, just emerging from behind the iron curtain, that Richard and I first bonded, and most likely when Richard had some inkling that his entrepreneurial spirit might be of some use to the global epilepsy community.

As subsequent international congress attendances grew to over 4,000, Richard, Hanneke de Boer, Giuliano Avanzini, and I had the enviable task of surveying future congress sites from Ireland, to Indonesia, to Argentina. In the process, it became clear to Richard that the financial responsibilities involved in organizing international congresses was equivalent to managing a substantial international business enterprise. It was obvious to him that outsourcing the organization of each congress to local professional event planners consumed a considerable portion of congress surplus we could keep if we organized the congresses ourselves. We were leaving money on the table. In 1997, when Richard became President of IBE, and I became President of ILAE, we suggested that our two organizations begin a bidding process to hire our own in-house event planner for all international conferences. Within a year we had retained a professional service to obtain bids and interview applicants, a major time-consuming endeavor. As bids came in, half way though his term as IBE President, Richard resigned and applied for the job himself. A businessman at heart, Richard had found his calling, and our two organizations have benefitted immensely from his appointment as IDM, as well as from all the superlative staff he has employed to develop a world-class service.

Biannual ILAE and IBE Congresses have not only grown in size and complexity, but Richard’s office now also organizes half a dozen or more Regional Congresses and other events annually, requiring that he and his staff be on the road constantly, travelling the globe on our behalf. His hard work and creativity have swollen our coffers in the course of constantly improving the educational, scientific, and social networking capacity of our many professional events at pleasing venues all over the planet. Since completely taking over all ILAE/IBE events beginning with the Madrid congress in 2002, the congresses organized by Richard and his team of 11 staffers have netted our societies over $18 million, which has made possible the many diverse functions that have come to define a new more vibrantly proactive international role for ILAE and IBE. Now, in the midst of a viral pandemic that mandates we remain home-bound, the value to our combined missions couldn’t be more apparent. We salute Richard’s legacy at the end of an era, and hope that the systems he has put in place will endure as we emerge from this international crisis and find his replacement.

Jerome Engel, Jr.
Los Angeles,
May 2, 2020