Darlene L. Henry, 38, teacher, helped in fight against MD

May 23, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Darlene Lynn Henry, a former poster child for muscular dystrophy who fought her medical condition through 16 years of elementary school teaching, died of a nerve disease Wednesday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Lutherville resident was 38.

Born in Baltimore and raised in Medfield, she was diagnosed with the muscle-wasting condition as a child. She spent summers at a muscular dystrophy camp in Leonardtown and at 21 became one of its counselors for a summer.

She was the Maryland Muscular Dystrophy Association poster child for Jerry Lewis telethons for two years and answered phones in fundraising telethons.

She was a 1986 graduate of Seton High School and earned bachelor's and master's degrees in education at what is now Towson University.

For the first 12 years of her career, Ms. Henry was a teacher and reading specialist at Edgewood Elementary School in West Baltimore.

"She was a fighter," said her mother, Janet L. Henry of Lutherville. "She never gave up and refused to go on medical disability. She wanted to work as long as she could. She always said, `The one thing I can do as well as anyone else is learn.'"

In 2002, she joined the faculty of St. Thomas Aquinas Parochial School in Hampden and taught fourth and fifth grades.

"She taught by example," said Sister Marie Rose Gustatus, the school's principal. "She never gave up and seemed to say to her students they could do whatever they set out to do. She was a firm and dedicated teacher. She expected as much of her students as she expected of herself."

The principal said Ms. Henry insisted on taking her turn at yard duty supervising recess periods.

"She would never give in. She never talked about her illness. It was as if it never existed."

Ms. Henry spent summers traveled widely throughout Europe, Canada and the American West. Family members said she declined the use of a wheelchair on these trips and insisted she could make it on her own. At her death, she was planning a cruise with her parents.

Ms. Henry taught until February, when her physician said she must retire. On her last day, students and faculty members staged a ceremony with flowers, cake and photos.

"It was a sad day," said The Rev. James P. Farmer, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Church. "We all sat there at the farewell and looked at her broken little body and knew an era had ended for us. Her life was a lesson in courage."

He recalled her optimistic and upbeat personality.

"She had a spirit for life that was unbelievable," he said, adding, "Her love of children was enormous."

"We had a packed church filled with her students and former students," he said of Ms. Henry's funeral Mass, which he offered Saturday. Her pupils sang hymns in her memory.

"She believed that everyone had potential," said Mary Cutter, the school's vice principal. "She was an advocate for students who might come into their own later, and she pushed them to make it."

Children at the school sponsored a fundraising event Friday, called "A Run for Miss Henry." The event raised $26,000 for the school.

Her brother, Douglas H. Henry of Annapolis, has established a memorial scholarship in her name.

In addition to her mother and brother, survivors include her father, Howard L. "Hank" Henry; and two nephews, Eric J. Henry of Stevensville and Alex B. Henry of Kennesaw, Ga.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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