Monday, May 18, 2009

Vance Henry, 1948-2009

We have lost a good man. Vance Henry died last week. His funeral was held on Saturday. The church was packed, indicative of the lives he touched. A lot more folk who knew, loved, appreciated, and respected him were unable to be there. But that does not diminish the impact of his life on theirs.

The folk at 5th Street knew Vance or knew of him. For a good period of time, we felt his influence. He served on our board from 2003-05. He was eligible for another term of three years, but his illness was already hitting him hard, so he opted not to re-up so he could better fight that which was ravaging his body. And fight he did. The longevity of his life is probably due, in the main, to the fact that he would not give up.

Two things I remember about Vance. One was that he, in a sense, became our board pray-er. He was often called on to lead in prayer at the beginning of the meeting. He loved to pray and it was good for the rest of us to hear him. Secondly, he had a special style of relating to our shelter guests. Long before he became a board member, he would come on site. He would see someone standing on the yard that he may or may not have known. He would motion for the individual to step aside and come over to him. Then he would put his arm around the person’s shoulder and say something like, “Hey, man, how are you doing?” “What do you need?” “Is there something I can do for you?” “How can I help you?” Then, he would continue talking and listening, trying to find an in-road into the person’s life where he could actually make a difference. Often he did.

He carried the same compassionate touch into the prison system. That was his passion; visiting those who were incarcerated. Though he would take the crime seriously, he would take the person more seriously. He would not talk over a person’s conversation nor moralize with him. Often he would just listen and try to figure out how he could help.

He was a devoted family man, hard worker, lover of music and a person of faith. Does it really ever get any better than that?

There is a concept making the rounds today called “servant leadership.” It has been in place for a period of time now. Some churches (which certainly ought to practice it if anyone should) try to make this their form of governance and leadership. Some businesses are now instituting this as their way of “doing business.” The concept is that the elected leadership, the CEO, the manager, the supervisor, et al take the approach to their endeavors not of lording it over but of finding ways to serve, to assist, to draw out the best of one’s gifts. Ideally this has a ripple effect and the employees, committees, and followers will catch and practice the same spirit.

Vance Henry knew about servant leadership long before it was given a name. Unlike some self-recognized leaders and activists who are enamored with the sound of their own voice, who spend much time in conversation with elaborate God-talk, and mention regularly how we should "just pray and trust God" but are never quite willing to descend into the trenches, Vance knew about the trenches from the inside. He knew what they looked like, how they felt, and how they smelled. Yet, to the trenches he would go. A servant leader.

He will be missed.

1 comment:

  1. You think a lot of thoughts at a time when someone dies and these thoughts go in all directions. You think about the person who has died (although I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Vance) By reading this blog, Gary has invoked some of my thoughts about my death. I am going to die someday.The statistics on death are still the death per person.And, l just like the infant in the womb who doesn't want to be born, the human being in the world doesn't want to die. I don't want to die!You think alot of thoughts when someone dies. You think about the implications of the belief I take for granted most of the time: Life after death.