Gordon Henry

Gordon HenryGordon died on November 17, 2021. In his youth, he was very active at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth Texas, where his civil rights concerns were first nurtured.

“Following Yale, Gordon spent several years in divinity schools; but ultimately the denominations seemed confining,” says John Kane. “Thus, from the early 1970s, he devoted his life to the dignity and honor of work: first, blue collar, sorting parcels for an early-stage UPS, next white collar, teaching in a multiracial high school, then manual as a landscaper/gardener for a Woman-owned nationally respected small manufacturing firm, and finally as an artist, affectionately documenting through photography his lifelong home of Fort Worth. Honest labor, honestly and thoroughly performed, seemed to him the foundation of a fair and just society.  He lived that principle until his untimely passing in November 2021.”

“Gordon, Louis Wiley, and I met in the same entryway as freshmen in Wright Hall,” says Jeff Orleans. “Louis and Gordon then were part of a 7-man suite as sophomores, and the three of us shared a triple as juniors – a haven of friendship, calmness, and laughter in what was a tumultuous year for each of us.

“Gordon was strong, principled, funny, steadfastly honest, devoted to his family, and a wonderful friend (as well as a very talented, totally self-taught, photographic artist in his later years). Over almost six decades we knew and cared about each other’s parents and grandparents, wives and children and grandchildren: five generations of intermingled families.  My wife Tracy and I owe him a special debt: We met each other because I visited Gordon and his family in Fort Worth over Christmas 1966, met a friend of his who (totally unbeknownst to me!) was at that very moment Tracy’s freshman college roommate, and almost four years later met that friend again during law school – this time, together with Tracy!

“Though I learned from Gordon in many ways during all our years of friendship, this one instance always has stood out.  Gordon occasionally smoked a pipe, and at some point in spring of junior year remarked that he would stop doing so over the summer – not that he would stop smoking altogether, but that he wouldn’t use the pipe while home from school. I asked why he would go to the trouble of quitting and then start again in the fall, and his answer has stayed with me always: ‘To remind myself that I CAN quit, when I want to.’ The challenge of that brief conversation has been a lifelong gift.”

“I roomed with Gordon freshman year in Wright Hall,” says Louis. “He was a passenger on my first serious road trip – a drive from New Haven to Texas to meet his family and see Fort Worth. Jeff Orleans rode shotgun as far as Maryland, and an upperclassman was also on board to D.C. On the Connecticut Turnpike we were cruising along with me at the helm when suddenly there was a loud ‘Bang!’ – and my green monster 1960 Ford station wagon (first car, no power anything) began to drift off course…towards an embankment! I maneuvered to the breakdown lane. Completely flat tire. Had no AAA back then, but I had a spare. Neither Jeff nor I had a clue about changing a tire. Gordon took it all in stride, and we were soon on our way. Gordon’s family gave me a Texas size warm welcome upon arrival, not ever to be forgotten.”

“In the early 1980s I hosted Yale Professor Kai Erickson at a Boston Yale Club dinner,” John adds. “His topic: where have all the ’60s revolutionaries gone?  His conclusion: to corporate law firms, international corporations, and lucrative medical practices. Gordon Henry brought ’60s values, rooted in faith and family, to our Yale class, and deepened them during our four years together.

“In the summer of 1966 he and David Hilfiker did social justice work in Birmingham, Alabama near the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where on September 15, 1963, literally on the eve of our beginning Yale, four innocent Black girls died in a bombing.  In March of 1967 he and I hitchhiked to and from his Fort Worth, Texas home. Gordon set out a list of unlikely rides, including a rich man, single woman, and Black man.  All three boxes were checked. Two Southern Baptists fed and housed us along the way. For Gordon, it was a human experience, not just transportation.

“At Yale many of us talked the talk, straying as we aged from the pathways where we found the walk demanding. Gordon never strayed.  He walked the walk until the last. His life and values continue in his wife Susan (herself an artist), son Adam, daughter-in-law Ashley, and granddaughter Lorelei.”

Louis adds, “One of the saddest things about his death is that a year or so ago he became a grandfather for the first time, and he was clearly enjoying that role and was going to be a good one for little Lorelei Henry. From now on she will only be able to learn about him second hand. But one aspect of Gordon’s life will serve her well. Gordon had become a terrific nature photographer over the years. If you visit his website, https://www.gordonchenry.com/, you can see for yourself. And for Lorelei, there are countless beautiful photographs of family occasions.”