Two years ago I conceived the idea for OneSouthernMan as a way to highlight and showcase the lifestyle and interest of gentlemen who adore the South and all it has to offer. I wasn’t thinking of any one person when I imagined how to personify an image on the website, but rather a compilation of traits I believed characterized the ideal “Southern Gentleman.” It turns out that “ideal” Southern gentleman could have been Tennessee State Senator Douglas Henry.
Senator Henry passed away late Sunday evening at the age of 90 in his Nashville home surrounded by family and close friends. He achieved many honors, one of the most notable being the longest-serving member of the Tennessee General Assembly, winning a seat in the TN House of Representatives in 1954. He was elected to the State Senate in 1970, and served until 2014 when the demographics of his district began to exceed the boundaries of his bipartisanship and tremendous knowledge of state government. His ability to forge relationships with people of all walks was legendary.
In 1995 when I was the State Chairman of the Tennessee Young Republicans, we set out to challenge any Democrat we believed might be vulnerable. Here was this older Democrat Senator who lived and represented the Belle Meade area of Nashville, one of the wealthiest zip codes in the state. Surely we could mount a winning campaign against a man who was perceived to be out of touch and pick up the seat. I found out all too quickly how much support this gentleman had in the “I respect Doug Henry” account; from both Democrats and Republicans. Senator Henry transcended party and partisan lines more than any single person I have ever known. He was loved and admired by everyone, even those who opposed his views and opinions, and in reality, those were few in number.
A few years later I was blessed and fortunate to work and serve alongside him as a fellow State Senator.
There are so many traits I recall when I think of him. His slow, short shuffle as he walked down the hall with his trusted aide, Nancy Russell, by his side, hands in his pockets and a cigar protruding from his mouth, carrying folders or his briefcase. Weather permitting and in season, the baggy seersucker suit he wore framed a picture of gracious generosity and Southern hospitality. Always waiting until every lady had entered or exited, only then would he step into the elevator or through a door. These weren’t mere mannerisms; it was his way of life.
Indeed, he was a Southern man to the core. Once when President Abraham Lincoln’s name was included in a routine proclamation, Senator Henry cast a “No” vote. When asked about the reason later his reply was simple, “I can never honor the man that chose to invade my homeland.” Old school? Definitely, but a true Southerner – loyal to a fault. And he was never accused of being racist for the simple fact that wasn’t a racist bone in his body.
However, my fondest memory of Senator Henry was of the small bell he kept on his desk. When he rang it one of his assistants would hurry into his office to dictate a letter or retrieve a bill to file. Old school? Most definitely. I seriously doubt any legislator in America would have the nerve to ring a bell and expect his staff to jump lest they suffer the wrath of lawsuits and negative press.
When the Republicans achieved a numerical majority in 2008, we finally moved down to what is known as, “The Plaza,” where committee rooms and the offices of the majority party are located. I was assigned the office suite Senator Henry had occupied for several years. Moving him was no small feat, for there were years of legislative paperwork within his confines.
Eventually, when I finally got the nerve to walk down and look at the space, Senator Henry was more than gracious and welcomed me into his domain as if I had walked up on his plantation porch on a Sunday afternoon. Days later as my staff was unpacking our boxes, Beth Chiles, my assistant found the small bell Senator Henry had used for so long. Had they forgotten or left it? I was elated. Now I had a bell all my own to summon my staff. Needless to say, Beth warned me if I ever rang that bell I would regret it to my dying day. Being smart enough to heed her advice, I never once rang that bell.
It was the ending of one era and the beginning of another – a torch passed from elder statesman to younger colleague. To my friend and colleague, Senator Henry – the most genuine Southern gentleman I have every known, may the bells that toll today welcome you to a new home alongside our Lord and Savior you served so well. Rest in peace my friend.
by: Senator Paul Stanley (ret.)