Former state Sen. Douglas Henry, a conservative Democrat and the longest serving member of the Tennessee legislature, died late Sunday at age 90.
Henry, who served in the House from 1954 to 1956 and the Senate from 1970 to 2014, is being remembered today for his folksy and courteous manners and his ability to reach across the aisle and befriend political opponents.
“He epitomized what it truly means to be a public servant and had a keen understanding of the constitutional principles on which our state and federal governments are founded,” said Sen. Doug Overbey (R-Maryville) in a statement. “He was a mentor and friend, and will be sorely missed by all with whom he came into contact.”
Henry, who grew up in Belle Meade, was the father of six and had many grandchildren. His wife of 67 years, Loiette “Lolly” Hume Henry, died in December.
After his brief tenure in the House, he worked as an attorney before returning to politics in 1970, when he won a seat in the Senate where he represented District 21.
In 2014, the Tennessee State Library and Archives produced a video about his life. The video tells how as a boy Henry loved to read and pour over maps and dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps. His father went to Vanderbilt University, served in the military and later won a state Senate seat, all things that Henry would eventually accomplish.
As a legislator, Henry was a leader in land conservation, establishing greenways, the Land Trust of Tennessee and Radnor Lake State Nature Area. He also played a role in starting a fully-funded state employee pension system and pay-as-you-go highway building program, which earned the state a triple-A bond rating. In addition, he took the lead in building Bicentennial Mall, the World War II memorial and the Korean and Vietnam veterans monuments. He also was a strong pro-life advocate and proponent of efforts to help vulnerable women and children.
“He exemplified the fact that it can be done, that you can be a fiscal conservative and also have a heart for those people who do need government service,” said Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) in the video documentary. “He understood that there is a limited role for government and we need to perform that government role well. And that’s what he did.”
Harwell also remembered how Henry made it a point to be everywhere he could to meet people and get to know them. When she was first elected, Harwell one day thought she had Henry beat. On a Friday evening during a downpour she went to a spaghetti supper at an elementary school in Sylvan Park and was certain Henry wouldn’t be there.
“I walked up to to this little elementary school and the first person I saw standing at the door greeting everyone just like that was Sen. Henry,” she said, recalling her disbelief. “He attended every event.”
At his retirement farewell on the Senate floor, Henry announced he would say his goodbyes by reciting lines from a song he sang in Sunday School when he was a boy.
“Now Sunday School is over and we are going home. Goodbye everybody, be always kind and true. Goodbye everybody, be always kind and true.”