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James Lawrence "Jimmy" Henson Jr.

August 28, 2010|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI
  • Jimmy Henson was a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving in the U.S. Navy. This picture was taken in 1967 in Da Nang.
Submitted photo,

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about James Lawrence "Jimmy" Henson Jr., who died Aug. 17 at the age of 63. His obituary appeared in the Aug. 19 edition of The Herald-Mail.

James Lawrence Henson Jr. had an uncanny knack for the game of billiards.

Family members say when competitors would line up to hit the cue ball, Jimmy, as he was known, could predict with eerie accuracy what the ball was going to do.

"If he watched you line up and knew you were gonna miss, he wouldn't even sit down," said Jimmy's son, John Henson of Hagerstown. "He'd actually stand where the cue ball was gonna be and pick it up at his turn. That was weird."

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Jimmy's mother and stepfather, Zelma Jacobs Lushbaugh and Harrison L. "Tiny" Lushbaugh of Hagerstown, said his gift for the game was evident early on.

Jimmy started shooting pool on the rec room table of his childhood home on Catawba Place in Hagerstown. At age 14, he began spending his evenings at the Cue-n-Cushion on East Franklin Street. The owner of the pool hall set up teams that competed throughout the Tri-State area. Before long, Jimmy was playing at the professional level on the U.S. circuit and winning national championships, Tiny said.

Family members said pool was not the only matter in which Jimmy proved to be a quick study. His schoolwork and his work in the U.S. Navy, then the trucking industry, seemed to come easily to him as well.

"He was just above average intellectwise, a notch above the crowd," Tiny said. "After school, (his three siblings) would be working, studying, trying to get their homework done. Jimmy would say, 'Oh, I did it already. My teacher gave it to us and I got it done.' He never studied for a test. He was just quick-witted."

Jimmy graduated "number one" from his class in the Navy, Zelma said.

"It was the same things there," John said. "(Jimmy) told me the other guys would go back to the barracks and study. He said he just studied in class."

Jimmy's family remembered fondly how he would use his keen mind to his advantage as a teen. Tiny and Zelma would assign chores to each of their children and pay them their allowance upon completion.

"They had to wash dishes, dry dishes, sort laundry," Tiny said. "If I gave five dollars a week allowance, Jimmy would wind up with just two left because he paid the others to do his work."

But that wasn't the end of the story. Jimmy would take his $2 to the pool hall and hustle to multiply it. Jimmy deliberately would lose the first couple of games to convince other players that they could beat him.

"He'd play a few games for a couple bucks and lose, just to reel them in," Tiny said. "Then, he'd keep playing and up the ante to $50. His opponent would think they had a real easy sucker, then he'd shoot his normal game. I used to go pick him up in the evening, and sometimes I'd go in and watch some of the action."

Lisa Truax, Jimmy's companion of 24 years, said he quit playing pool around 2002. Jimmy had served in Vietnam and he experienced a number of physical maladies as a result of exposure to Agent Orange, she said.

"He had neuropathy and he just couldn't walk around the table anymore," Lisa said.

Despite suffering "military-related disease," John said, his father never regretted enlisting to serve.

"He was very proud of it," John said. "He was distressed about how our government treated the Vietnam vets. But as far as what he did and his service time, he never regretted it."

After giving up pool, Jimmy found new interests in computers and photography.

"When he got into something, he got into it wholeheartedly. And he'd help everybody," Tiny said. "If my computer wasn't working, I'd call him and he'd say, 'Don't touch nothing. Now, do this, do that.' I'd do it and my computer would be back up and ready to go again."

Zelma said Jimmy always enjoyed making people laugh. He used pet names and nicknames to keep smiles on the face of friends and family.

Since his teens, Jimmy called his brother Terry, "Raz," because he liked to tease him. He called his organized sister Patty, "Patty the Planner," and Tiny, "Harrison Lee Lee," a playful twist on his given name. Even as an adult, Jimmy good-humoredly called his mother, "my mommy."

Other favorite nicknames he bestowed on others were Mikey the Muskrat, Jakey Legs, Harley Farmer, Skillethead and Sleepdog.

Sometimes, Jimmy's cleverness and creativity were revealed in gentle, loving ways. Lisa said he liked to write poems and make homemade greeting cards on the computer. Several such cards grace his mother's home.

This past Mother's Day, Jimmy wrote a poem and used a different method of delivery. After practicing reading it aloud for days, Lisa said, Jimmy called his mother when he knew she wouldn't be home and left it on her answering machine.

In the poem, he expressed to Zelma how much he appreciated all she had done over the years and how much he loved her. Zelma played the recorded poem at Jimmy's memorial service. She said his writing and recording the poem "kind of sums him up."

"It's so nice to have the poem and the recording of his voice," Zelma said. "He had to be a pretty nice guy to do that."

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