‘She fought so hard for me’: Mother of Utah man freed from Venezuelan jail remembered for her fierce love and dedication to those around her

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Friends and loved ones gather for the graveside service for Laurie Holt at the Crescent Cemetery in Sandy. Holt spent nearly two years pushing to get her son Josh freed from a Venezuelan jail. Saturday, Feb. 16. 2019

Riverton • To many people, Laurie Holt will be remembered as the Utah mother who tirelessly fought for nearly two years to have her son, Josh Holt, released from a Venezuelan jail.

And she fought hard. She lobbied local and federal leaders, gained the support of a wealthy Venezuelan businessman and tearfully pleaded at rallies for her son to be able to come home.

At her funeral service on Saturday, those closest to her remembered her not just for these heroic actions she took on behalf of her son — but all the other ways she championed for her children, cared for her husband and showed compassion for her friends.

“She fought so hard in every single thing she did,” Josh Holt told hundreds of mourners who gathered inside a Latter-day Saints church in Riverton. “She fought so hard for me.”

The Holt family has said that Laurie passed away peacefully in her home on Feb. 10. Josh Holt told the crowd on Saturday that a medical examiner found there was fluid in her lungs and her heart was twice the size it should have been.

The son said Saturday that his family has been flooded with letters of support since Laurie’s death, many from people who have never met her — but were inspired by her relentless efforts to bring her son and his new wife back to the United States.

“That is my mother,” Josh Holt said. “She is my hero. She taught us so much.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The hearse awaits Laurie Holt's casket at the Summerhill Stake Center in Riverton after the funeral. Holt spent nearly two years pushing to get her son Josh freed from a Venezuelan jail. Saturday, Feb. 16. 2019

Josh Holt was arrested in Venezuela in 2016 on weapons charges that the Holts and U.S. politicians said were invented. The Utah man had traveled to the county to marry Thamara “Thamy” Caleno, whom he had met online. His wife was also jailed, accused of being an accomplice.

The couple was released from jail in May, nearly two years after their arrests.

At the Saturday service, family members said Laurie was the happiest she had ever been this last holiday season, with Josh and Thamy back home in Utah.

Her family was finally together again.

The 50-year-old woman was remembered for her wide smile, contagious laugh and the way she could connect with people. Robert Kemp, a family friend, told the crowd that Laurie was able to connect with politicians and national leaders just as easily as a neighborhood kid stopping by her home on Halloween.

She was a fighter, the “Mama Bear” that would do anything for her children and those around her.

“When Josh and Thamy needed a voice, Laurie was there,” Kemp said. “Laurie responded with all the energy a mother could muster.”

FILE - In this July 13, 2016 file photo, Laurie Holt holds a photograph of her son Joshua Holt at her home in Riverton, Utah. Holt, a Utah woman who spent nearly two years pushing to get her son freed from a Venezuelan jail, has died at age 50. Former U.S. Rep. Mia Love said Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, that Holt died unexpectedly Sunday at her home in the Salt Lake City suburb of Riverton. Love says Laurie Holt's husband Jason Holt went to wake her for church and found her unresponsive. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Laurie and her husband, Jason Holt, had just celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary days before her death. The couple first met at a Pocatello drive-in, her cousin Robyn DeZego recalled at the funeral. Jason happened to stop in front of Laurie to look at the screen, and Laurie kicked him in the back of his leg and told him to move.

He knew that day he would marry her.

The couple were wed and went on to raise four children, two boys and two girls.

And as they grew up, Laurie was there as their biggest cheerleader — often literally.

As her children played football or softball, Josh Holt recalled, they could always hear their mother’s loud yells rise above the other cheers.

She had an instinctive way of knowing when something was wrong with her children, and supported them in everything they did.

She will be missed, but Josh Holt said his family believes she’s in a better place, with her parents and grandparents who died before her. And someday, the family believes, they’ll see her again.

“She’s happy,” Josh Holt said. “We felt her. We felt her love.”

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