Former Sen. Douglas Henry, longest-serving lawmaker, dies

AP News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2017 4:13 PM
Former Sen. Douglas Henry, longest-serving lawmaker, dies

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Sen. Douglas Henry, a larger-than-life lawmaker with the longest tenure in Tennessee General Assembly history, has died. He was 90.

His daughter, Kathryn Henry-Choisser, said she and her brothers Douglas and Bob were by his side as Henry died peacefully around 11:50 p.m. Sunday in his West Meade home.

Henry, an attorney from a wealthy Nashville family, was famous for his Southern manners, seersucker suits and a cigar chomped between his teeth. He never smoked around women because it would be "very discourteous."

The Democrat led the powerful Senate Finance Committee for three decades until Republicans took over the upper chamber in 2007. The Republicans respected him so much that they named him "chairman emeritus" and gave great deference to his views on state financial matters until he retired in 2014.

Known by the nickname "Duck," Henry was born in 1926, studied French, Greek and Latin as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University. He later earned his law degree from Vanderbilt.

He served in World War II and received the Philippine Independence Medal, and was elected to one state House term beginning in 1955.

Henry was later elected to the Senate in 1971, where he championed education, children's welfare and voting rights. He was also an opponent of abortion rights.

Henry served in a record 23 two-year General Assemblies before he retired.

Gov. Bill Haslam said in a statement on Monday that Henry is a primary reason for the state's 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," Haslam said.

Former Vice President Al Gore considered Henry "a dear friend."

"Senator Douglas Henry devoted his life to public service and embodied the spirit of bipartisanship," Gore wrote.

When a marijuana decriminalization bill was introduced in the 1970s, Henry smoked some to understand what it was all about — but left Tennessee to inhale so he wouldn't be breaking any laws in his home state. Henry voted against the measure.

During a 2011 debate over internet sales tax collections, Henry was horrified to discover consumers are legally responsible for paying taxes on goods bought online, even though few do in practice. Henry calculated that he owed the state $97 for books purchased online, and wrote a check to the Revenue Department.

Henry's wife of 67 years, Loiette "Lolly" Hume Henry, died in December at age 89. The Henrys had six children.

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Jonathan Mattise contributed from Nashville, Tennessee.