A Tribute to My Father

Here is what HI.com Publisher Clay Henry said at the Memorial Service held Saturday for Orville Henry, his father and an Arkansas sportswriter for the last 60 years. OH passed away March 16 at the age of 77.

I don't know that this is a eulogy, just a talk about my father and what he wanted me to say. We talked about this day a lot in the last two years. And he told me who he wanted to speak three months ago. I asked Coach Richardson to handle the eulogy the day before I left for the Cotton Bowl. And, he agreed. He was in tears. He told me, "If it is on a game day, they will play without me. I'll be there." That was during a time that we thought my dad might pass quickly. He was terribly weak from the chemo, although he did make one last recovery for a few good weeks around his birthday in early February.

I thought it would be tough thing to talk about my father at his service. But, it was actually easier than I thought. And, it was an easy talk to write. I believe the Holy Spirit guided me. The wind was blowing 35-40 mph on Thursday, the day I wrote it at my kitchen table. I was ready to speak when my turn came. I struggled with the last sentence and the emotion overwhelmed me then, but not until then. Until then, I just worked at telling my dad's story as a grandfather, father and teacher. He was my teacher. I always tried to learn when I watched him. Sometimes he taught me with discipline, sometimes it was the way he loved others around him. But, he always taught. Seldom did he do something that made me cringe. In fact, I can remember only once. He reached across the front seat to honk the horn of the car I was driving when traffic stalled after the South Carolina game two years ago at Columbia amdist state fair traffic.

So, here's what I read yesterday at my father's service:

My Talk

Thanks to my brother, Kirby Shofner, for bringing us all of the wonderful pictures you will see in just a few minutes. As you see in the program, I was scheduled to follow the multimedia presentation. But, I saw it a few hours ago, and broke down in tears. I knew then that I could not follow it, and thought it would be the perfect conclusion to this day. So we moved it to the end. And, thanks to Mr. Howard for allowing our family to use this wonderful building that carries with it so many great memories for the Henry family. This is the place that almost every Henry and all of the members of Ann's family went to high school. So it was absolutely the perfect place for the celebration of my father's life. I've counted up the years of total time spent in this school by members of my family, Ann's family and children and grandchildren who have attended Central. It is more than 70 years.

As most of you have noticed, my father's remains are located in a family heirloom, a silver receptable dubbed Mrs. Kaminsky. The story about is too long for me to go into here today. It sits atop his work chair and his favorite hat is atop Mrs. Kaminsky. That's his favorite sand wedge, given to him by his brother Bill. It's called the Monster. He used it to get out of trouble, and it gives me confidence should I find myself in trouble today.

First, I want to thank so many for coming today. And, I want to thank all of those that have honored my dad with their stories … in print, on the radio, on television news accounts and in coffee shop conversations all around this great state … over the last week. He liked it when people talked about him, and he would have loved all of these stories.

You have come here to honor my father, but I want to pay tribute to another person here today. I want to talk about my stepmother, Ann, who has become so special to my family. When we lost my mother when I was 18, it was tough on all of us, especially my father. He was lost for several years until he found Ann. It was a blessing.

Everyone that knew my dad will tell you that Ann and O, as Ann called him, were soul mates. They were best friends and were truly in love. Ann cared for my father in a special way both before he was sick and after he was sick. For the past two years, she was amazing in the way she helped him continue to live and work. I know that my dad lived for Ann as much as he lived for work, and that is saying a lot.

My favorite story of their love happened just a few weeks ago when my father was still taking chemo in hopes of fighting off the cancer. On Valentine's Day, he challenged Ann to get ready for a trip. He was truly sick and weak from his chemo, so Ann was perplexed. But, she was ready per his orders. He drove her to an antique jewelry store in Russellville, their favorite place, and bought her a beautiful ring for her Valentine's present.

Ann is a special lady. For a time, some of the Henrys didn't understand her. You know about stepmothers, you sometimes don't know what to do with them. I learned what to do with this stepmother … and her wonderful children … by watching my dad. I watched the way she cared for my dad and learned to love her. Years ago there was a time when someone stopped me to tell of meeting my sister. I told the person, "I have no sisters." Oh, how I was wrong. I have four good sisters and another wonderful brother to go with the three great ones I grew up with. My father loved them as if they were his daughters and son, just as he loved his first four sons. And, they all loved him the same way.

Everyone here knows of OH's work and coverage of the Razorbacks and golf. But, most don't know how much he loved family and all the fun things he did to make it neat for everyone else. He loved special holidays. He especially loved Haloween and he loved to trick people. He once put a tape recorder inside a box on our doorstep with a scary message for trick or treaters warning them of what would happen if they lifted the box. No one ever touched that box and some of the children ran away. He loved it. He also was fond of hiding in the bushes with a high pressure hose to squirt the hoodlums in the back of pickup trucks who would come by the house to throw eggs. He always got them wet as they pulled up to the stop sign at 18th and Fair Park. Those kinds of pranks he absolutely loved.

Oh, how he loved grandchildren. You will see that love and the sparkle in his eyes in all of those images on the screen later in this celebration.

Grandchildren loved him, too. They called him PopPop, GrandpaO, or simply Oeee. He treated Grandchildren differently than anyone else. They were so special. He exchanged email messages, mailed them poems -- he called them his little ditties -- or he listened as they told about their stories. He loved them so.

I've got great stories that my daughters love to tell about their GrandpaO. They shared a couple of new ones just on Sunday, because they were convinced that GrandpaO could no longer "get in trouble."

My daughters, Sarah and Becca, were always mildly disgusted of the times GrandpaO took them to the Fayetteville city pool wearing the tiniest of Speedo bathing suits. But, they never complained to him. They did ask that Uncle Kirby destroy any of those pictures, if they existed and not put them in his presentation that you will see.

Sarah and Becca delighted in finally sharing with us the time GrandpaO took them through the attic of his three-story house thru a window and on top of the steeply pitched roof to watch the 4th of July fireworks in their PJs. GrandpaO made them promise not to tell Gran or mom and dad because "you don't want Grandpa to get in trouble." They never told until GrandpaO was safely in heaven.

Becca shared to us this week about how GrandpaO taught her how to play Gin Rummy and gamble at age 7. Once on vacation they had a continuous card game and score sheet for almost one solid week. Becca lost $22,000. Gran took her to the store to buy some play money to pay off the debt. So, I asked Becca why they finally stopped? "I finally beat him in one hand and he got mad," Becca said. "GrandpaO did not like to lose."

No, he didn't. Ask Paul Eels, Harry King or Jim Elder. They know. They played those 50 cent golf games at North Hills every Friday. The first time Paul joined that group, he found out about OH's competitiveness. Paul hit his tee shot, and quickly reached for another ball in his pocket to try to improve with a mulligan. OH piped up from the back of the tee box, "Paul, you gonna practice or play?"

There were no mulligans with OH, and you better play it as it lies. And, you paid your bets. I remember joining in a game with my dad and C.W. Keopple at Paradise Valley. They played three-hole bets for one quarter and they paid each other on the green at the end of each three holes. They often threw the quarters at each other hoping that it would roll around awhile on the green. There were no putts conceded, not even two-inch putts. You holed everything.

So much of my dad's life was about the Razorbacks, but it was golf, too. He grew up a caddie, and he thought like a golfer. Often, he taught you lessons through golf. I will never forget the time we were playing at Fair Park Golf Course and he taught me an important lesson when I was about 12. We had struck our tee shots, and we had put our bags on our shoulders to leave the tee box. A young black boy was striding across the fairway on a path that would put him near our golf balls. I told my father, "We better hurry, that boy will steal our balls." My father looked at me sternly and said, "You think he's going to steal our balls because he is black, don't you?" Of course, he had me nailed. The boy was still nearby when we got to our balls, and my father asked him to come over for a visit. My father asked, "Have you ever hit a golf ball?" The answer was no. He asked if he would like to hit some, and the boy beamed the brightest smile I'd ever seen, and he gladly accepted the 5-iron my father pulled from my bag and began to whack the 15-20 balls that had been pulled out of my bag. And, he gave him one of my newest balls to keep. The boy strolled away still beaming. My father then said, "Go find all of those balls." The lesson was over and I will never forget it.

My father competed hard on the golf course, or at gin rummy or at making his yard the best in the neighborhood. I remember the many days we pulled crabgrass by hand when we could have killed it with chemicals. Spraying it wouldn't do because it left yellow spots. If you pulled the roots, there were no yellow spots and the Bermuda filled in more quickly. He made you do it the hard way.

And, he worked his job the hard way. He did more preparation than any sports writer I've ever met. As a youngster, I can remember riding in the car with him for Razorback games in Fayetteville. He had the Saturday paper with the printed lineups two deep. Of course, he had the Razorback depth chart memorized in preseason. But before he got out of the car for the game, he'd know the other team's two deep, too. He'd get me to ask him jersey numbers and he'd quote the name, height, weight and class. You couldn't stump him. I did one time, and it turned out that he was confused because the other team had a set of twins and he'd gotten the numbers and names crossed.

My father loved being Orville Henry. He loved the attention from fans and readers. He always returned notes and usually in a kind way, although I've heard him deliver a pointed reply, too. He could and would put someone in their place.

Sometimes he did enjoy being Orville Henry so much that he did forget about being Dad or Grandpa. He'd get caught up in his writing and lose track of time. He could write a long time, as all of you know.

One of the good things about cancer is that it gave people a reminder to tell him thanks for all of the years. Many did that. The folks at the University of Arkansas and across the state have honored my dad in special ways many times over the past two years. Coach Broyles has been so good in the way he honored my dad on campus in such prominent and special places. My dad said often he was grateful, and that was in private, too, so I know he meant it. I think he figured people had forgotten about him, and that was truly not the case. Our family is grateful, too.

The cancer also made my father stop to think about other things besides being Orville Henry. In the last two years, he spent more and more time telling those around him what he thought about them. He told all of us that he loved us more in the last two years than in the previous 50 years of his life. He wrote more notes, he spent more time calling people on the telephone and took more calls than in previous years. Maybe it was because he couldn't play as much golf and he had more time for those things, but it was different, that's for sure.

For sure, he couldn't play golf as much, and he couldn't write as much. All of us spent a lot of time in the last two years trying to get his computers in working shape so he could write his wonderful columns. Someone once asked me if he was hard on computers, and I just tended to think that they weren't good enough for him … that he typed too fast and they couldn't keep up and ultimately they broke. At any rate, early one recent Sunday morning, I got a phone call from my father about the latest computer failure and he finally concluded that he didn't have any reason to live any longer and he'd decided to quit the chemo. I asked, "Is it because you can no longer write." And, he sobbed, "Yes." So we got to work and got that computer fixed. I think he wrote one more column after that and then gave in to the cancer.

People were good to my dad at every stop during his career, but I want to take this moment to thank the people at the Morning News of Northwest Arkansas where my dad ended his career ... Dana Caldwell, Jerry Reid, Steve Caraway and especially Jeff Norris, the computer guru who always was so patient in the way he helped solve my dad's problems with his machines.

It pained him that he had given in to the cancer during the last few weeks. He wanted badly to speak on the latest developments in Fayetteville. And, I think most of us wanted to read what he had to say on those developments. Some have written that in the last week so I know that is true. My dad and I talked about those things of late, but I won't go into them here. But, I'll give you a hint. The final speaker at my dad's service will be Coach Nolan Richardson. That much was determined by my father months ago, and it was reaffirmed recently.

My dad was close to and loved all Razorback coaches, but none were as dear to him as Coach Richardson. He loved Coach Richardson. He considered him to be the best man that he'd ever known. That has been his thought for sometime, but it was driven home over the last two years when my dad was terribly sick from the cancer and the chemo treatments. No one called as much or talked to my dad as often as Coach Richardson. He comforted my dad during a time when he really needed it. He made him laugh. He made him happy. He made the pain go away. Coach Richardson called him before ball games in hopes of lifting his spirits, and sometimes just to talk. My family will always be grateful to Coach Richardson for going the extra mile for my father. My father asked several months ago that if I handled arrangements for his service that I would ask Coach Richardson to participate in the eulogy. That request was given to Coach Richardson at that time.

Not surprisingly, Coach Richardson and his wife Rose drove to Malvern two weeks ago on a rainy Monday when they learned that my father was not doing well. Coach Richardson spent four hours by my father's side. My father delighted in showing him the one picture he had in his office that was not of family. It was of Coach Richardson. My father told me the previous day that "Nolan was coming." He smiled like I hadn't seen him smile in weeks. My father told me, "I went into the Hall of Fame last year, but this is a greater honor." The next day, as my father worsened, I read to him the latest stories of the goings on in Fayetteville. His eyes were closed and I thought he could no longer talk. I guess as a test, I asked him if he knew what had happened the previous day. My dad's eyes opened. He smiled, and said in the loudest voice we'd heard in a week, "NOLAN!" He knew Coach Richardson had been to see him and was still excited. Coach Richardson was the last person outside of family to see my father.

At this point, I would like to honor my father's last request by introducing the Henry Family's Coach … Coach Nolan Richardson.


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