Her name appears in countless reports about the only fatal shark attack in Maine history — first in the media frenzy last summer and now as the state takes measures to avoid another tragedy. But who was Julie Dimperio Holowach to Bailey Island and the family and friends who mourn her?
Those family and friends remember Julie for her athleticism and energy, her optimism and positivity, her seize-the-day attitude and willingness to help anyone in need.
Julie and her husband, Aleck “Al” Holowach, started vacationing in Maine about 35 years ago. They first came to Monhegan Island, an artist colony and fishing community about 10 miles offshore.
The couple appreciated the solitude. With only two telephones on the island back then, “Our work couldn’t get in touch with us,” Al said.
When the Holowachs decided to buy a home in Maine, they looked at real estate from Ogunquit to Camden. They found many places too busy.
Eventually they zoomed in on the Harpswell area. When they reached Bailey Island, “We said, ‘This is it. We don’t want to go any further,’” Al said.
“We just fell in love with Bailey Island,” he added.
Roxanne York, a real estate agent who lives and works on Bailey Island, remembers Julie’s first visit. After less than half a day, “She said, ‘Well, this is home,’” York recalled.
York would later sell the Holowachs land on Elden Point, where they built a home around 2005. Julie “always wanted to be on the water,” Al said.
They soon began to integrate themselves into the community. Al found that newcomers were welcome, so long as they made an effort to fit in rather than bring change.
“She made friends fast,” Al said. “She fit right in too.”
One of those friends was Janice Adams, of Orr’s Island. Julie, always eager to learn new skills, took a CPR class that Adams taught at the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department. The two soon became friends.
In 2017, Adams and her husband vacationed in Florida and visited the Holowachs at their winter home in Naples. They liked Naples so much they bought a condominium there, so the couples saw each other in summer and winter.
Janice and Julie would often walk on the beach in the mornings and talk — about art and theater, politics, books they had read. Julie convinced Janice to take up golf, while Janice recruited Julie to try paddleboarding.
Adams remembers her friend as encouraging, energetic, generous, inclusive, optimistic and positive. Despite extraordinary success in her career as a fashion executive, she was humble and “always trying to be a better person” and make life better for others.
“She had a real zest for life,” Adams said. “She wanted to make the most of every day.”
The Holowachs relished retirement. They loved to explore Maine on the back roads. “We used to go from Bailey Island all over, antiquing and going out to lunch and stuff,” Al said.
Julie had played mahjong, the Chinese tile game, in New York and Florida. She soon started playing with three other women at the Orr’s-Bailey Yacht Club. “Now they have a mahjong club that my wife started down there,” Al said.
The couple golfed together and Julie started a “Golf and Wine” group at the Brunswick Golf Club on Wednesday evenings. “Many women from the island now do it,” Al said.
“She was my best friend,” he said. “We did everything together.”
Julie’s athletic pursuits extended far beyond golf. A runner and triathlete, she would enter a 10K in Freeport every Fourth of July with next-door neighbor Jacqueline McGee and another local woman. Julie would always beat them to the finish line.
“We were very competitive with one another,” McGee said. “I could never beat her though.”
When Julie wanted to know how to handle the Holowachs’ boat, she asked McGee to take a boating safety course with her. The course involved eight hours of classroom instruction in Portland on a Saturday. McGee said she didn’t have time, but Julie talked her into it.
“She drives everyone along with her energy and enthusiasm,” McGee said.
“She never backed off,” McGee added. “She did everything 100 times better and faster than everyone else.”
Julie’s life on Bailey Island was more than boats and golf and mahjong at the yacht club. She was an active volunteer, preparing meals every week for Harpswell Aging at Home.
“She always wanted to help people, no matter what,” Al said. After a theft at a business on Orr’s Island, she raised money to recoup its losses. She would help families in need, bring comfort to friends with terminal illnesses.
“She was just everywhere doing everything for everybody,” York said.
Julie prioritized her own family throughout her corporate career and busy retirement.
“Her family was absolutely the most important thing to her,” said Addy Stricker. Stricker is engaged to Julie’s son Dean. They plan to wed at Mackerel Cove next September.
“I only knew her for three years, but I felt like I knew her much longer,” Stricker said.
With five children between them, Al and Julie established a rule that they would not meet their children’s boyfriends and girlfriends until a relationship had lasted six months. But Addy met Julie two weeks after she and Dean started dating.
Despite the early introduction, Julie “saw that I was really important to Dean and she adopted me” as a member of the family, Stricker said. She called Julie caring and nonjudgmental, compassionate and kind.
“I think everyone who met her fell in love with her immediately,” she said, including the whole island.
Stricker’s admiration of her future mother-in-law grew as they spent more time together.
Though Julie had retired long before they met, Stricker described her as “probably the most hardworking person” she has ever known. Julie would rise before 4 a.m. to train and would give much of her time to the community. “She never sat down,” Stricker said.
“She always encouraged other people to never limit themselves, to always strive for their goals,” Stricker said.
Kate Wolf, of Orr’s Island, bonded with Julie over shared passions — golf and politics, as well as books.
Julie liked to read contemporary literary fiction — a favorite was the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante — and biographies of successful women.
In conversation, Wolf said, Julie had a unique ability to make the person she was talking to feel like the only person in the world.
At the time of a phone interview in July, Al had just come in from working in the gardens that Julie loved. “I keep that up for her,” he said.
Boothbay landscape architect Bruce Riddell designed the gardens. Riddell was a key designer of the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and Julie volunteered there too.
Another of Julie’s loves was the water. She competed in and raised money for Tri for a Cure, a triathlon that brings in more than half of the Maine Cancer Foundation’s annual budget.
On July 27, 2020, Julie was swimming with her daughter near the mouth of Mackerel Cove when a great white shark attacked and killed her.
“She was swimming to keep in shape for that triathlon,” Al said. “She was always doing something for Mainers.”
Adams said that while Julie was adventurous, she was also sensible. If she had thought it was dangerous to swim in the ocean that day, she never would have gotten in the water.
Media reports identified Julie as a resident of New York City, which miffed her island friends. “We were saying, ‘She’s not from New York, she’s from Harpswell!’” Adams said. “We were very possessive of her.”
York, a Maine native, felt the same way. “No, she’s not a New York woman,” she remembers thinking. “This was her home.”
Al wants the community to remember Julie as “a kind friend who would be willing to do anything for anybody, and they wouldn’t even have to ask, she would reach out.”
Adams said that at 63, Julie was younger than many of her Harpswell friends, but “she was a role model” who “will always have a positive impact on our lives.” When Adams and her friends encounter a problem now, they sometimes ask themselves, “What would Julie do?”
Wolf described her friend as “sunshine in a human package.”
“I miss her tremendously every day, still, because the loss to the community and her family and me personally is staggering,” Wolf said.
Adams said she is not religious, but sometimes thinks Julie “was such a good person that she was taken from us for a bigger purpose. … She was just, maybe, too good for this Earth.”
To comfort herself, Adams sometimes reads the poem “On the Death of the Beloved,” by John O’Donohue. It reads, in part: “Whatever you enfolded in your gaze / Quickened in the joy of its being; / You placed smiles like flowers / On the altar of the heart.”