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Remembering Larry.

Larry Henderson died in London, Ontario, late November 2006 at the age of 89. Obituaries printed in newspapers from coast to coast and short clips tucked into the later portion of all the national TV news reports focused mostly on Larry as the first full time national news anchor on CBC TV from 1954-59. The CBC was the only national broadcaster around and for the better part of that decade Larry's was the best known face in a country full of TV sets that mostly pulled in just the one station.

Larry had a sober, unflappable persona in that pre-teleprompter era when newscasters weren't required to smile much or provide facial editorials. There were no winsome grins after the story about quintuplets, no flapping of moist lashes to drive home the report on African famine. He could digest new and breaking information on the fly and effortlessly work it into his ongoing reports. Rare moments when he lost his cool became legendary. Many obituaries told of the time, after a series of technical gaffes, when he abruptly stood up from his desk and walked off the set. An older friend swears he remembers Larry concluding a similarly plagued broadcast by picking up his sheaf of notes and tossing them up into the air.

Larry's work as a broadcaster and reporter took him all around the world, facilitating his book-length studies from the '60s and '70s, including such titles as The Arab Middle East; Vietnam and Countries of the Mekong; and, Egypt and Sudan. Perhaps his most highly regarded book is Journey to Samarkand from 1960, recounting his travels in the annexed republics of Central Asia during the height of the Cold War. A staunch foe of Communism all his life, Larry lamented its continuing appeal and mystique even after the collapse of the old Soviet Union in 1991. What he felt the world badly needed was the post-Communist equivalent of the Nuremberg trials where the evils of this many-tentacled system could be openly tallied and condemned.

I was introduced to Larry Henderson in 1996. Prior to our first meeting I knew he had been the editor of The Catholic Register from 1974 to 1986, and that under his very orthodox leadership, circulation soared to never equaled heights and the paper actually turned a profit. I came away from our first meeting with an agreement that I would start submitting articles to Larry's final journalistic enterprise, the equally orthodox monthly, Challenge. This quickly developed into a co-editing arrangement and for the next six years it was my privilege and delight to work shoulder to shoulder with this man who became almost like a second father to me.

Born in Montreal to a nominally Anglican family, Larry attended McGill University for three years on a music scholarship. He was an accomplished pianist and played all his life. Even into his 80s, he regularly organized his thoughts by sitting down at the keyboard of his custom built harpsichord that he kept in his book-crammed study. At the age of 20 Larry sailed to England where he studied at the London School of Economics and did his post-graduate studies in Geneva, Switzerland. While there, he told me of the day he set off to visit psychological pioneer Carl Jung at Bolingen. Finding no one home, he scaled the stone wall and made his way into the great one's study, where he did nothing but breathe in the rarified atmosphere and rearranged five coins on Jung's mantelpiece into a more balanced formation. And then he left.

Back in England for a few more years, Larry worked occasional factory jobs and tried his luck on the repertory stage, landing a starring role in Christopher Marlowe's Faustus and playing Mercutio to Alec Guinness' Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet at the Old Vic.

Once the Second World War got rattling away, Larry returned to Canada for his military training. He served as a signal corps lieutenant in North Africa and Italy where at Christmas time of 1944 (as David Dooley recounted in last month's issue) Larry inadvertently slept one night on a tomb that contained the bones of Dante. This was a rich portent indeed for this man who would enter the Catholic Church 22 years later at the age of 49.

Typically, Larry's conversion grew out of a reporting assignment. Calling around to Canadian leaders of various Christian denominations, he asked them all to explain how they understood that Jesus could be both true man and true God. It was only the Catholic leader, Msgr. Raymond Limoges, then Vicar General of the Ottawa archdiocese, who struck him as actually believing what he was saying and almost instantly, Larry signed on with him for instruction in the faith.

Larry possessed one of the sharpest and most broadly read minds I've ever had the pleasure to plunder. There were dozens of authors he either introduced me to or pressed me into finally reading, including John Lukacs, Jacques Barzun, Maurice Baring, Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. He rejoiced in 1999 when Harvard University Press published the English translation of The Black Book of Communism. Larry, of course, had read the original French edition two years before. While it would never imprint itself on public consciousness as indelibly as a trial, Larry felt this book by a committee of military and political historians at least ensured that Communism's horrific legacy had been recorded, and could be referenced by those who insisted on knowing.

I took Larry as my guest to numerous classical and choral concerts in London for which I received free media passes. Larry, in kind, took me as his guest to three different plays over a 24-hour period at Niagara on the Lake's Shaw Festival. I don't drive and had other commitments in town, so I bussed down to Niagara on a Saturday morning to join Larry mid-spree. Sharing a narrow, lumpy bed with him that night in the beer-soaked Angel Inn while a folk band cranked out sea shanties downstairs, I felt as if I too had slept with Dante's bones. Decidedly sleep-deprived, I perked right up for the terrifying drive home on Sunday afternoon across the Burlington Skyway with Larry at the wheel. He was wisely persuaded to retire his car shortly after.

Larry backed away professionally and socially over the last few years as his mind began to lose its customary snap and vigour. With me, at least, his sense of dignity was too great to allow himself to be seen in less than tiptop intellectual shape. I regretted that but acquiesced; feeling that to override his reticence would be cruel. There were others with whom he didn't pull down the blinds in this way, and I envied them their access.

My wife met him on a nursing-home verandah the summer before last and after she re-introduced herself at some length, a sort of light went on in his face and Larry said twice, "You know me."

Indeed we did, sir.

Herman Goodden is a journalist who writes from London, Ontario.
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Author:Goodden, Herman
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Obituary
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2007
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