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Henson's life recounted in book

June 09, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

Aviation forefather Richard A. Henson's story is an inspiring one. He turned one rickety biplane at the Hagerstown Airport into an airline empire, then used his profits to help charitable projects soar throughout the state of Maryland.

So busy was Henson with his business and his good works that he never had time to sit down with friend and author Jack L. King to write his own life's story - as he had long intended - before the ravages of Alzheimer's disease put that project beyond his reach.

Now, at age 92, Henson's story will be told despite his inability to help with the writing or even read in final printed form the tale of his enchanting life.

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The publication in May of "High Flight Beyond the Horizons" was a bittersweet moment for its author.

"Dick Henson was a mighty good friend. He has done so much for so many people but a lot of people don't know who he really is. I wanted to change that," King said. "It's a big disappointment not to be able to talk with him anymore or hear what he thinks about the book."

King, 80, of Baltimore, used photographs and interviews with more than 50 of Henson's friends, family members and business associates to tell the true story of a self-made millionaire with a penchant for helping others help themselves.

The book explores Henson's dynamic life from his first job cleaning dental tools to the establishment of a revolving fund to perpetuate his legacy of giving back to the community.

It's a story that Dick Henson started to record on audio tapes for King about four years ago. Henson's charitable works put the project on hold for several years, King said.

Then he began suffering symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

The disease has rendered Henson unable to communicate or care for himself. He now depends upon 24-hour medical care in his Salisbury, Md., home, said Donna Ashby, executive director of the Salisbury-based Richard A. Henson Foundation.

Henson, a Hagerstown native, doesn't know a local project to which he donated $1 million - the Richard A. Henson Family YMCA - has been completed, Ashby said.

He doesn't know construction of the new multimillion-dollar Richard A. Henson School of Science & Technology is nearing completion at Salisbury University, or that ground will soon be broken in Salisbury for the juvenile offender drill academy that he initiated, she said.

"To say his condition has advanced is putting it mildly," Ashby said. "At this point, it's a day- to-day situation. But he's a fighter. He's got such a joy of life."

Foundation Vice Chairman Davis Ruark lauded Henson's "joie de vivre" in the introduction he wrote to "High Flight Beyond the Horizons."

"Never have I met a man who embraces life more fully or experiences it more deeply. Dick Henson sees what needs to be done, does it immediately, and does it well," wrote Ruark, who handles Henson's business affairs and is state's attorney for Wicomico County, Md.

Ruark, Ashby and others in the book cite Henson as a major influence in their lives.

"He has helped to teach me what it really means to be alive," said Ruark, who describes Henson as a "surrogate father," an astute businessman and caring individual from whom he often sought advice and praise.

Henson's unbridled enthusiasm for aviation and his belief in making the most out of life spurred Ruark to realize his lifelong dream of learning to fly, he said.

He earned his pilot's license May 11. Ruark only wishes he could have piloted a flight with Henson in the passenger seat flashing his trademark smile, he said.

Ashby describes Henson as "one of the most generous people I have ever met."

He and his foundation have contributed more than $5 million to local charities within the past five years, Ashby said.

But Henson remains genuinely warm and compassionate despite his wealth and many accomplishments, she said.

"You always knew you had his complete attention when you were talking with him. It's almost like he was drinking you in," Ashby said.

To order "High Flight Beyond the Horizons," send $19.75 to Jack. L. King, 209 Wampler Road, Baltimore, MD 21220. The price includes shipping.

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