Celebrating the Life of Henry Herndon '48
Celebrating the Life of Henry Herndon '48
Liz Torrey

On Friday, October 6, friends and family gathered in St. Andrew's duPont Memorial Chapel to celebrate the life of Henry Herndon '48, former President of the School's Board of Trustees. Herndon was elected to the Board in 1979 and was named Board President in 1985, making him the first alum to hold this position. He passed away in April of this year at the age of 86. Below are excerpts of eulogies delivered at the service.

"Above us walk 307 students from all walks of life, from across the United States and the world, young men and women who attend a School whose mission shines more brilliantly every year because of what and how Henry taught its Trustees and its leaders. He gave John O'Brien and me the opportunity to create, innovate, and transform St. Andrew's. His advice was always direct, remarkably simple, wise, and memorable. 'Choose,' he said, 'one or two aspects of the School each year that need your vigilant attention, creativity and energy. Don't choose too many goals, too many aspirations or objectives, or your leadership focus and impact will fade.' When we faced a major crisis of any kind, Henry simply told us to confront the issue squarely, honestly, carefully, and immediately. I once called him early in my headship, discourage and embarrassed by a discipline case. 'Get back to work and lead,' he said simply.'"

-Head of School Tad Roach

"Henry symbolized one of my favorite words, a word that I think is in distinctly short supply in today's world. That word is stewardship. Stewardship is about the careful management of something important. Stewardship is about the responsibility to protect something that is entrusted to your care. Henry did that and more. As the first alumnus to serve on the Board, he literally created the role of the modern, activist, engaged Trustee, which is the governance standard upon which we run the School today. And as the Board Chair, he represented a tireless commitment of time and emotion and wisdom to Headmasters and to the School that he loved.

We should all reflect on the simple truth that [at St. Andrew's], we compete in a marketplace where our success is not guaranteed. We live in a world that desperately needs the hallmarks of St. Andrew's education: civility, curiosity, reason, balance, and engagement. What we do here has never been more important. So thank you, Henry Herndon, for reminding all of us, especially the Trustees, why we serve."

-Scott Sipprelle '81, Chair of the Board of Trustees

"Henry was more than just a friend to me. Henry was a fabulous mentor. He moved to the same street that I lived on in New Castle. Almost every day, he would walk his dog down the street in front of my house. So if I ever had a problem, or an issue, or needed a little guidance, I would look out the window, see Henry coming, and then I would casually walk down. 'Oh hi, Henry. How are you? Great day. Oh, by the way, Henry...' It might be a problem in my personal life. It might be a problem with one of my businesses. It might be a problem of a nonprofit that I was involved in. Many times it was regarding St. Andrew's School. But Henry, almost every time, had the answer for me then and there. I would get absolutely wonderful advice.

Henry somehow let me be the president of the Board after he [stepped down]. It was September of 1997. Then I get a letter from the Headmaster, Jon O'Brien, that said, 'In June, I'm out of here!' Now that was not anything I had even thought about or considered one iota. I was devastated, to put it mildly. So what did I do? I ran to my living room window. I probably stood there an hour, but I wasn't going to miss him, I can tell you that. Sure enough, here comes Henry, and sure enough, I unload on him this devastating problem. God bless him, he took it right under his wing, and led me through the process step by step by step, and we had an unbelievably smooth transition from Jon to Tad. It was all due to my friend. He was a great, great friend and mentor, and thank goodness he walked his dog."

-H. Hickman Rowland '58, President of the Board of Trustees, 1997-2003

"Henry was the model of the ethical lawyer. He defended clients accused of a crime with all the vigor he could muster. Back in the 1960s and 70s, when there wasn't a real public defender system, lawyers were appointed to defend criminal defendants who did not have any funds to hire a regular lawyer. I recall Henry was so involved in defending a poor soul that he required us to carry his stuff to the courthouse—he had so many trial preparation materials. He took a case for free, all the way to the Supreme Court. And of course, Henry served for many years as the head of the committee charge by the Delaware Supreme Court with enforcing the Delaware ethics rules on the Delaware lawyers, and that commitment to ethics was recognized by his receiving the First State Distinguished Service Award and the Daniel Herrmann Professional Conduct Award [both granted by the Delaware Bar Association]."

-Ed McNally, Partner, Morris James

"Dad had a little tale to tell about his arrival at St. Andrew's. He was a pretty diminutive kid, probably close to about 100 pounds, and he was welcomed by being put into a laundry bag and hung out a window. I also remember in particular one experience I had here, and it was really his sense of humor on full display. St. Andrews, at that time, would have a monthly birthday dinner in the Dining Hall for those students that had celebrated a birthday in the last month. I was eating the best of St. Andrew's cuisine, and all of a sudden, a person dressed in a gorilla suit showed up at the steps of the Dining Hall. I remember shaking my head and thinking, 'Whose parent could be so cruel to send in a gorilla to a birthday party?' After a really stirring rendition of 'Happy Birthday', the gorilla belted out, 'And a special happy birthday to Matt Herndon.' I was mortified and amused in the best of ways. It is worth noting that years later, close to Dad's retirement from [Morris James], I returned the favor and sent a gorilla to the firm to also congratulate him on the occasion."

-Matthew Herndon '83

"My dad was a man who sought joy. He loved to give joy, and he loved to receive it. For me, this is the legacy that I cherish most, and St. Andrew's is a big part of that joy in his life. Another part of the joy was definitely Morris, James, Hitchens, and Williams, and there was almost nothing he loved more than getting ready to go to work. There was just a kind of chin-up optimism for my dad each morning, setting out. That's something that's hard to see these days, so I think about that a lot. That sense of optimism is something I would say he never lost, even to the very end. My dad spent the last three years in Kendal, in Hanover, New Hampshire, which is a Quaker community, and much of that time he was in a nursing unit [that provides] special care for people with Alzheimer's. Over time, as we all will, he lost many of his capacities, but you won't be surprised to hear that he never lost two of his most sacred rituals: he never lost the capacity to shake hands, and he never lost the capacity to walk dogs. In those final years, my dog and I visited him often. I'd hand my dad the leash, and we would go flying through the Kendal campus. At that point, my dad couldn't properly get himself dressed, but he could guide the dog, we would get around posts, we could wave hello. I don't know how he knew all these people, but they'd come up, and he'd look them the eye and give a big handshake and a 'Hello!' Even in a wheelchair, unable to walk or even move much on his own, even when he couldn't speak, he found joy. Even in the darkest times, he found love and joy in every tiny crevice. Just hours after he died, a really fantastic nurse from his unit came by to tell us, and I quote, 'You know, I never really knew your dad when he could talk, but he sure could tell a good joke.' He made his mark up to the very end."

-Brooke Herndon

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