Obituary: Sen. Douglas S. Henry Jr., BA’49, JD’51, Statesman and Gentleman

Henry receives a standing ovation by the Tennessee General Assembly after his farewell address to the Senate in April 2014. (AP PHOTO/MARK HUMPHREY)

Henry receives a standing ovation by the Tennessee General Assembly after his farewell address to the Senate in April 2014. (AP PHOTO/MARK HUMPHREY)

 

Tennessee Sen. Douglas S. Henry Jr., a giant of the state legislature for six decades and a force in Nashville politics, died March 5, 2017, at age 90. He was the longest-serving member in the history of the Tennessee General Assembly, and became the first person to lie in state inside the Tennessee Capitol since Gov. Austin Peay in 1927.

A conservative Democrat, Henry was beloved by members of both parties. The attorney was first elected to a House seat in 1954 before being elected to the Senate in 1970 to represent Nashville’s District 21. The longtime chairman of the Senate’s Finance, Ways and Means Committee, Henry served in the Senate 44 years, developing a reputation as a guru in state finances. He left the state legislature in 2014 but remained a presence at the Capitol.

“He served the state for nearly 50 years, and it is not an exaggeration to say that he is one of the primary reasons the state is on such solid financial footing today,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who ordered flags at the Capitol lowered to half-staff in Henry’s honor. “He was a powerhouse intellect, courteous, kind, genuine and a statesman, and I will miss knowing his wisdom and perspective are only a phone call away.”

Henry took on a range of causes as a lawmaker, including sponsoring the first child-seat restraint law in the nation and pushing child-abuse reporting and adoption laws. Although targeted by some on the political left during his final years in office over his stances on social issues, Henry also was considered a champion of the environment, conservation, public education, and women and seniors.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, BA’62, who served as Tennessee governor from 1979 to 1987, said, “There was no one in the Tennessee General Assembly who demonstrated integrity, courtesy and financial stability more than Douglas Henry. To him, party politics were of no importance. The citizens he served were what mattered. His example will be important for years to come.”

Henry’s ability to reach across the aisle and respect those with opposing views was evident throughout his time in the Senate, even on the day of his departure. “Goodbye, everybody. Be always kind and true,” he said in his 2014 farewell address to the Senate.

Henry’s death came less than three months after the passing of his wife of 67 years, Loiette “Lolly” Hume Henry, BA’49. He is survived by five children; 13 grandchildren; a sister, Peggy Henry Joyce, BA’51; and many great-grandchildren.

THE TENNESSEAN



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