Saturday, June 21, 2003

Rest well, Dad

On Father's Day, last Sunday, my father, Fred Cordell Henderson, died, exactly one month after he celebrated his 92nd birthday. This obituary (a collaborative effort by my three sisters, my brother-in-law and my stepmother -- with a tiny contribution from me) appeared on the front page of the Monday edition of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot (North Wilkesboro, N.C.):

Fred C. Henderson, 92, local leader, dies Sunday

Fred C. Henderson, 92, of Dogwood Drive, Wilkesboro, died Sunday, June 15, at Wilkes Regional Medical Center.

Funeral services will be held Tuesday, 2 p.m., at Wilkesboro United Methodist Church with the Reverend Christopher Fitzgerald officiating. Burial will be in Mountlawn Memorial Park.

Mr. Henderson was born in Wilkes County on May 15, 1911, to James Blaine and Lula Cordell Henderson. He was a member of Wilkesboro United Methodist Church for 80 years. Over the years, he served on many of the church’s governing bodies.

Mr. Henderson was a well-known Wilkes County businessman. In his early years, he worked as meat cutter for Miller & Long Grocery and Piggly Wiggly. In the late 1930s, Mr. Henderson began his career in sales, working for Gaddy Motor Company. In 1940, he started Henderson Electric Company, which provided electrical appliances to the residents of the county.

With the start of World War II, Mr. Henderson and his wife Sue moved to Baltimore, Md., where he worked in the naval shipyards to support the war effort. As it turned out, he worked on both the first and last Liberty transport ship manufactured at that location. After the war, Mr. Henderson and his family opened Henderson’s Flower Shop. From the start, they grew many of their own flowers, and in the 1960s, they began growing roses. The quality of Henderson’s roses enabled the company to grow into a network of nationwide distribution.

Mr. Henderson was an active member of the Republican Party and served in various party posts over the years. He was always politically active and served for twenty years as chair of the Wilkes County Board of Elections. He served for one term as a Wilkesboro commissioner beginning in 1971.

His first wife, Sue Sigmon Henderson, preceded Mr. Henderson in death.

He is survived by his wife, Meneta Wellborn Profitt Henderson; three daughters, Sigmon H. Adams of North Wilkesboro, Mary C. Henderson of Wilkesboro, Joan H. Bumgarner of Millers Creek; one son, Rick Henderson, of Las Vegas, Nev.; one sister, Betty Hobson of East Bend; six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.

The family will receive at Wilkesboro United Methodist Church from 12:00 until 2:00 p.m. prior to the service.

My father was an unassuming, dignified man, as comfortable in his own skin as anyone I've ever known. He didn't have a sentimental bone in his body, as my sister Joan once noted, but he was intensely passionate about and protective of the things he loved: his family, his home, his businesses (particularly his roses), his church, his community, his state. He adored my mother and Meneta and worshiped his grandchildren and great grandchildren. He couldn't understand why anyone would want to live anywhere other than Wilkesboro, North Carolina.

He taught the girls and me to trust our own judgment and think independently. That led to a bit of a dilemma, as he had strongly assumed I would take over the family business. But I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in the small Southern town where I was born, and though the decision to move away and find my own path was certainly unwise at the time from a financial perspective, it was what I had to do to be happy. We discussed this at length and with probably as much emotional intensity as he was capable. I have no doubt he was disappointed in my choice at the time, and with some of the career moves I made in the first few years. But eventually, he not only accepted my decision, but (I've been told) was eager to let others know that he was proud of what I've done. At the wake, several friends stopped by to say that -- during my time at Reason -- he'd let people know when I'd appear on C-SPAN, or had a free-lance article published in some other national outlet.

He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure about five years ago, and had a rough time the past year, as did Meneta. His hearing and eyesight were failing, so he was losing touch with the goings-on of the outside world -- not just politics and current events, but Carolina basketball and the Braves. I know his enjoyment of life had to be diminishing, particularly when it was an effort for him to just live. I'm glad he went peacefully. I not only loved him; I admired him -- as did every decent person whose life he touched.