OUR CITY

Remembering the leadership of state Sen. Douglas Henry

Mayor Tom Rowland
Posted 3/16/17

For several years, I had the privilege of serving on the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations alongside the late Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville. This Tennessee statesman …

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OUR CITY

Remembering the leadership of state Sen. Douglas Henry

Posted

For several years, I had the privilege of serving on the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations alongside the late Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville. This Tennessee statesman served 44 years in the Legislature and died last week at the age of 90.

From my first day on TACIR, over 14 years ago, I quickly recognized what a “giant of a man” Sen. Henry truly is in Tennessee history.

On his last day at TACIR, he led the pledge to his beloved Tennessee flag, which hangs in the Capitol Plaza Room where we hold meetings. It was recited with passion and with true dedication to something he held dear.

During his last day in the Senate, his wife of 67 years, Lolly, was by his side (she died in December 2016). On that day he gave a powerful farewell and ended with the words, “Goodbye everybody, be always kind and true."

He lived by those words. He was staunch and unwavering in his support of legislation, but he did his research on each and every piece he considered. When a marijuana decriminalization bill was introduced in the 1970s, he decided to smoke the drug himself to understand what it was all about — but left Tennessee to inhale so he wouldn't be breaking any laws in his home state. Sen. Henry ended up voting against the measure, after he said his first-hand experience convinced him it would not be good for the public.

He was a champion for the people and actively took part in legislation that protected children. He was well respected by his associates and his last day in the Senate was filled with many funny stories and many historic moments of his service through the years.

What I will always remember is his slow, Southern voice as he would slowly pick up the microphone at our TACIR hearings and voice his opinion, based on his years of experience. He was a valuable resource for the commission, but also for each of us commissioners who benefited from hearing the history nuggets he had to share.

I will always cherish the memories of his last days, the leading of the pledge to the state flag, and then shaking his hand on a cool November day in 2016 in downtown Nashville, when he came to honor a friend. It was the dedication of the Capitol Boulevard Building across from the Capitol in honor of Charles “Bones” Seviers, CEO of Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund. In a wheelchair, with a small blanket across his lap, Sen. Henry sat on the sidewalk as the building was dedicated. Shaking his hand that day, I was in awe of this giant of a man and his faithfulness to his friend Bones Seviers and to his home state of Tennessee.

In his 44 years in the Legislature, Sen. Henry left his imprint on everything from the state's finances to conservation to history to its social programs. It was only fitting that Cleveland and Bradley County, following Gov. Haslam’s instruction, lowered our flags to half-staff in memory of this Tennessee statesman. It was also only fitting that his body lie in state in the Capitol, the first person so honored since Gov. Austin Peay in 1927.

Born into one of Nashville's most prominent families — his grandfather was among the founders of National Life and Accident Insurance Company, and his father was himself a state senator — Sen. Henry saw public service as his life's work. He considered himself a conservative Democrat, who counted among his admirers fellow politicians across the spectrum who remembered him for his unwavering gentlemanliness, his devotion to his home state and its people, and his commitment to sound fiscal policy during his many years as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Henry led by example and I feel blessed and honored that this great man passed my way. And blessed even more that he set an example for any city, state or national leader to following in his final words, “… Be always kind and true."

Rest in peace, Sen. Henry, and thanks for your service.

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