NASHVILLE, TN — Douglas Henry, 90, was a legendary presence in Nashville politics, and the longest serving state legislator in Tennessee history serving six decades. He retired from the legislature in 2014.
Douglas Henry Jr., was a 1941 graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy, and Vanderbilt University Law School graduate.
In 1970, Henry ran for a state Senate seat (on Nashville’s west side) and represented that seat for 44 years, much of that time spent as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee where he earned a reputation for fiscal responsibility and conservatism.
Although he visited the Tennessee Tribune office to discuss local issues he will always be remembered by the African American community as a true conservative who made sure that the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan’s bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest was placed in the state Capitol in the 1970s. The African American community remembers that it was Henry in 1998, who led efforts to clear vegetation from the side of I-65 to ensure that the infamous 25-foot-tall statue of Forrest would be visible from the interstate.
In 1987, Henry started movement to banish from the Capitol a portrait of Tennessee’s Reconstruction-era Gov. William Brownlow. Brownlow’s policy of disenfranchising both ex-Confederate leaders and soldiers while utilizing state government to enfranchise African-American former slaves with the right to vote in Tennessee elections fueled the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1860s.
Remembered by His Collegues
From Gov. Bill Haslam:
“One of the most fun calls I have been able to make as governor was a call in 2015 to Sen. Henry when we knew we would be able to put funding for the new state museum in the budget. Sen. Henry was a tireless champion of the museum, its mission and the importance of preserving Tennessee history for future generations. His dedication to the museum may only be surpassed by his commitment to the state’s financial strength.
“I was fortunate to be able to visit with Sen. Henry Friday, and I can attest that the state’s finances were still top of mind to him. He served the state for nearly 50 years, and it is not an exaggeration to say that he is one of the primary reasons the state is on such solid financial footing today. He was a powerhouse intellect, courteous, kind, genuine and a statesman, and I will miss knowing that his wisdom and perspective are only a phone call away.”
From Lt. Gov. Randy McNally:
“It is impossible to quantify this loss or even put it into words. To me personally, Douglas Henry was an invaluable mentor and a trusted friend. To the state of Tennessee, he was far more. Douglas Henry was our state’s financial guardian and protector. He always wanted what was best for his state, never for himself. A true gentleman, he was consistently kind and gracious to everyone. Whether you were a Republican or a Democrat, a prince or a parolee, Douglas Henry treated you with respect. The kindness he showed toward me — a young Republican member of the finance committee serving in a Democratic-controlled legislature — is something I will carry with me for the rest of my days.
“And I am not alone. Nearly everyone he encountered can share similar stories. No one could spend time with him without coming away with an overwhelming sense of pride about being a Tennessean, or overwhelming envy if they were not. Douglas Henry loved Tennessee with all his heart. He truly was a man with no equal. I will miss him and I will never forget him.”
From Mayor Megan Barry:
“Senator Douglas Henry’s tremendous impact on the city of Nashville and the Tennessee General Assembly, where he served with unparalleled distinction,will undoubtedly last for generations to come. He was a fervent student and teacher of our shared history, he was an expert on the state budget, and he set a high standard for decorum and decency in public life. Nashville was proud to call him one of ours, and we miss him already. I know I am joined by many across the State of Tennessee, which Senator Henry loved so dearly, in celebrating the life and legacy of a true statesman.”
From U.S. Sen. Bob Corker:
“I first had the opportunity to work with Doug Henry in the mid-1990s during my time as commissioner of finance, and I last spoke with him on Friday to tell him how much I thought of him. He was a true gentleman and a true Tennessee statesman. No one focused more over a longer period on the fiscal issues facing our state than Senator Henry, and with a steady hand and wise guidance, he set a tremendous example of bipartisanship and integrity in public service. I will truly miss Doug’s friendship and will keep the entire Henry family in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
From Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris:
“Senator Henry was our guardian of federalism. State sovereignty has lost a great advocate. We’ve all lost a great friend.”
From House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh:
“My few words cannot convey the impact of Senator Henry on me personally, but more importantly our great state. His wealth of knowledge, understanding of the essence of state government, impeccable character, love of his family and fellow man, and genteel manner set the highest bar. He allowed me to be his friend and to learn from him. For that, I am grateful. Our family is thinking of his.”
From Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris:
“Few legislators rise to such prominence and retire with such distinction. His legacy includes the first child restraint laws in the nation and our state’s adherence to fiscally conservative budgets. His legend looms large in these halls, and his counsel was sought after right to the end. We are all better for having witnessed his life of service and continuing to honor his devotion to the public good.”
From State Sen. Doug Overbey:
“Senator Douglas Henry set the standard for the General Assembly for courtesy toward others, civility in debate, and preparation in the representation of his constituents and consideration of issues in committees and on the floor of the Senate. He epitomized what it truly means to be a public servant and had a keen understanding of the constitutional principles on which our state and federal governments are founded. He was a mentor and friend, and will be sorely missed by all with whom he came into contact. May he rest in eternal peace.”
From State Sen. Jeff Yarbro:
“Just learned that Senator Douglas Henry has passed away. Sen. Henry stands alone in the history of the Tennessee General Assembly. He served longer than any other legislator and was unmatched in the universal respect earned from colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He served longer than any other legislator and was unmatched in the universal respect earned from colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”
From State Sen. Thelma Harper:
“Today is a sad day in Tennessee because we have lost the ‘great one’ of Tennessee politics. A true leader and friend, Senator Henry dedicated his life to public service for almost 60 years. In those years, he never wavered. He championed and understood that we could be fiscally responsible and still care about the welfare of others.
“He was my go-to Senator because there was nothing he did not know about the finances or the budget of his beloved state of Tennessee. I can truly say I learned from the best. I will be forever grateful and honored to have served with him for over 20 years. Our Senator Henry has passed, but his stamp on Tennessee will last forever.”
From Davidson County Democratic Party Chair Gary Bynum:
“Senator Henry was a true statesman who always put Nashville and Tennessee ahead of himself. For more than five decades,without fail, he fought for the rights of ordinary Tennesseans. From his fight for children’s safety to women’s equality and the environment, he was a dedicated public servant and one of our strongest advocates. Not only that, but he was a true southern gentleman who made it his mission to show respect and kindness to everyone. Today, with all Tennesseans, we mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Senator Douglas Henry.”
From former Mayor Karl Dean:
“Senator Henry was an outstanding public servant. He served Tennessee with wisdom and integrity. Thoughts and prayers with his family.”
From U.S. Rep. Diane Black:
“Senator Henry was special to me & to so many others — a true southern gentleman and a giant of the #TNleg. We miss him already.”
From Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos:
“Douglas Henry Jr. was a distinguished public servant, esteemed Vanderbilt alumnus, generous benefactor and dear friend. His quiet wisdom and steady leadership in the General Assembly helped our campus, city and state in so many ways.” “I will always be grateful for the keen interest and devotion to the university that Doug and his beloved wife, Lolly, maintained throughout their lives. Vanderbilt was privileged to have Doug as its state senator for 44 years. His tremendous influence in areas such as public education, finance, natural resources and so much more have left a lasting mark on our community.”
Henry to Lie in State at Capitol
NASHVILLE, TN — The body of state Sen. Douglas Henry will lie in state at the Capitol Thursday, the Senate announced.
Henry was the longest serving member of the Legislature in Tennessee history, representing parts of west and south Nashville for 44 years. He died Sunday night at the age of 90.
The in state visitation on the second floor of the Capitol is the first since that of Gov. Austin Peay in 1927, according to Lt. Gov. Randy McNally’s head of communications, Adam Kleinheider. Family and friends will receive visitors Thursday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. and again from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Henry’s funeral will be held at Downtown Presbyterian Church at 11 a.m. on Friday.