Richard Henson dies at 92

June 14, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

Local leaders used words like "great humanitarian" and "great citizen" to describe philanthropist and aviation pioneer Richard A. "Dick" Henson, who died Wednesday.

Henson, 92, died at his Salisbury, Md., home on Wednesday night, according to the Holloway Funeral Home. He had Alzheimer's disease.

He is survived by his son, Richard A. Henson Jr., of Maugansville.

Born in Hagerstown, Henson was Fairchild Aircraft's first test pilot and later in life donated $1 million to build the new YMCA on Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown.


"He was a great, great citizen," said friend and business associate Jack Hershey Jr., of Hagerstown.

"He certainly contributed of his time and talent in every area. Not only being a highly successful businessman, but he went one step further in contributing much of his worldly wealth to many different types of community and charitable services, most notably the YMCA and Boy Scouts," Hershey said Thursday.

Henson donated a "significant amount" toward the summer camp for the Mason-Dixon Council, Boy Scouts of America, said Bob Holsinger, senior district executive.

Holsinger called Henson "a great humanitarian."

Henson and the Y

It was Henson's $1 million pledge in April 1998 that helped YMCA officials run a successful fund-raising campaign for a new building, said David Beachley, who was president of the Y board at the time.

"Mr. Henson didn't give his money freely. He gave to worthwhile projects," Beachley said.

Even though his health was already starting to fail, Henson helped raise more funds for the $8.7 million building by giving speeches and talking to others about giving to the Y, Beachley said.

The new Y building is named the Richard A. Henson Family YMCA.

"He was an extraordinary man, very committed to community involvement. He liked to challenge communities, to raise the bar," YMCA Executive Director Michael Flicek said.

"Certainly, he's going to be very missed by many, many people," Flicek said.

"He was a great man, a big loss," Beachley said. "But, certainly, his work will continue. What he did for us will continue to benefit the community for years," Beachley said.

Henson started Henson Flying Service at the Hagerstown Airport in 1931, offering rides, lessons, fuel and service.

During 33 years with Fairchild, he advanced from test pilot to program director for the F27 Prop Jet.

He started The Hagerstown Commuter in 1962, with flights between Hagerstown and Washington, D.C.

Henson Aviation Inc. was sold to Piedmont Aviation in 1983. Henson retired as CEO in 1989 after USAir bought Piedmont.

Other ventures included a beef cattle operation in Smithsburg and buying WHAG-TV in 1978 in a bank sale.

An inspiration

Carolyn Motz, manager of the Hagerstown Regional Airport, Richard A. Henson Field, said Henson was "an absolute inspiration."

"To watch him do the things he was doing in his latter years was enough to keep anybody going at any other age," Motz said.

"He just wasn't considering that his life was going to end any time soon. He kept working on his foundation and his special interests as if he had decades left and I just found that to be quite an inspiration to me," Motz said.

The Richard A. Henson Foundation was set up in 1990 in Salisbury on the Eastern Shore.

Henson was particularly interested in helping children, said Donna Ashby, the foundation's executive director.

"His focus was always programs that benefited children, their education and physical and mental well-being," Ashby said.

In addition to contributing to the YMCA in Hagerstown, Henson contributed to YMCAs in Salisbury, Pocomoke, Md., and Dorchester County, Md., Ashby said.

He gave money to Salisbury University the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore in Princess Anne, Md., and Wor-Wic Community College near Salisbury, she said.

One of the last big projects on which Henson worked was the Wicomico County Drill Academy southeast of Salisbury for teenage offenders, said Davis Ruark, immediate past vice chairman of the Henson Foundation and state's attorney in Wicomico County.

Henson heard about a drill academy in Naples, Fla., and flew Wicomico County officials south to visit it, Ashby said.

Henson agreed to help pay for any shortfall in the construction of the academy or operating expenses when it opens, Ashby said.

Ground is to be broken for the academy on June 18, Ruark said.

"Everywhere you look, you see the trail of Richard Henson," Hershey said.

Funeral services will be Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Asbury United Methodist Church in Salisbury. Friends may call Monday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Holloway Funeral Home. There will be a private entombment at Wicomico Memorial Park.

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