NYC health employees mourn Jamaican American Gary Henry

The late Jamaican-American, Gary Henry.  Alvin Henry
The late Jamaican-American, Gary Henry.
Alvin Henry

Friends and colleagues at New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) have expressed deep sorrow on the sudden passing of beloved Jamaican American manager Gary Henry, who died suddenly on March 25.

Relatives said Henry, a manager in the Disease Intervention and Case Management (DICM) Unit in the Bureau of Tuberculosis Control (BTBC), was “barely 55 years old, when on March 25, 2022, on his way home to take care of his first love, our mother, he passed out in the parking lot of his work site.

“Despite the tremendous effort of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) and the Emergency Department at Woodhull Medical Center to revive him, God saw fit and transitioned him to his spiritual home,” said relatives in the obituary. “His entire family remains in shock that their baby brother has gone home to glory so soon.”

Henry’s colleagues at DOHMH, with whom he had developed a very close working relationship, over the years, told Caribbean Life that they were still in shock over his sudden demise.

“Gary’s death has shaken his co-workers, colleagues and friends to the core,” said Christine Chuck, DICM’s Jamaican-born director. “Gary cared for his staff, and took the time to encourage each one to be the best version of themselves. By doing this, he became a big brother, an advisor and a counselor to many.

“He was a conscientious, dedicated and caring person; an overall nice guy, who, over the years, cultivated substantive and long-lasting bonds of friendships at the DOHMH that not even death can break,” she added.

Chuck said Henry worked with DOHMH’s BTBC from Nov. 16, 1992 until his death, moving up the ladder from public health advisor to manager.

“He worked in both the public health and the clinical arms of the BTBC,” she said. “During the 1990s and early 2000s, the BTBC provided services in 10 clinics throughout the five boroughs of NYC (New York City), and Gary worked in nine of the 10 clinics.

“During his tenure, he made immeasurable contribution to the decline of tuberculosis in New York City,” she added. “He played an integral role in piloting and, subsequently, implementing video technology to observe patients while they take their medications (Video DOT).”

The use of video technology was pivotal in the BTBC’s ability to maintain Direct Observed Therapy (DOT) service during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chuck said.

“He will be sorely missed,” she said.

Crystal Simmons, a long-standing African American manager at BTBC and DICM, said Henry was “more than a co-worker; he was a friend.

“The day was brighter when he smiled and spoke,” she said. “And he always made the mood lighter with a joke. He always made sure that everyone was good.

“And this is the impression that will last and be understood,” she added. “I will take with me the fond memories and conversations we shared. But the one thing that I will remember most is that he cared.”

Dawn Cummins, another manager at DICM, who hails from Barbados, used the letters in Gary’s name to describe him: “G – genuine (cares for others and put others before himself); A – awesome (one of the best friends you could ask for); R – real (honest to a fault, he’ll tell you the truth whether you want to hear it or not); Y – youthful (always full of life and laughs).

“There are so many conversations and memories that we shared that brings a smile to my face whenever he comes to mind,” Cummins said. “Rest in peace, my friend.”

Nikos Mitropoulos, a DOT coordinator, mused: “Dear colleague and friend Gary, you really disappointed me. You promised to win the lotto, and send some money my way.

“I’ll miss you,” he added. “You were always there for me, and everybody else, covering and helping all the time.”

Mario Williams, a Jamaican-born supervising public health advisor, said he first met Henry in 1993, when he started working at BTBC. Henry would later, until his death, become Williams’s immediate supervisor.

“I quickly realized that we had more in common than being from Jamaica and working for the Health Department,” Williams said. “We were avid track and field fans, especially following our Jamaican schools at the Penn Relays yearly without our paths being crossed.

“Gary would go for the weekend carnival, while I only attended the Relays finals, which not only included the Jamaican high schools but also the international races involving Jamaica vs USA,” he added. “Gary was a humble and giving person.

“He would go into the communities to assist or cover the staff in achieving the assigned tasks, when we were short-staffed,” Williams continued. “He was willing, and that made him standout from some of his peers.

“He was kind and helpful to everyone who knew him, and he was very dedicated to caring for his parents,” he said. “There are many who could testify how he helped to motivate them to strive for the best in life.”

Williams also said Henry was “a gift to the Health Department in general, and, to be specific, the Bureau of TB Control.

“He embodied a quote from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that my mom would say to us as kids, ‘The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night,’” he said.

After leaving the Manhattan Network at BTBC, African American Gregory Lockridge said he was assigned to the DOT unit to pilot the Live Video DOT project under Henry’s supervision.

“I quickly got to know and respect Gary,” he said, stating that they had “many things in common.”

Lockridge said they were both Panther brothers, graduating from SUNY College at Old Westbury.

“We both came from large families and, somehow, became the primary care givers for our mothers,” he said. “He always encouraged me to work harder and go further. There are so many memories, sharing stories, advice, laughs and some tears.

“When I lost my mother in June 2021, Gary texted me and said, ‘I can’t express the sorrow I am feeling. Through you, I felt I knew her very well. If you need anything, don’t hesitate to reach out to me,’” Lockridge added.

“At my mom’s funeral, he was there to show support,” he continued. “Gary, over the years, has worn many hats: schoolmate, manager, mentor, and, most importantly to me, my friend. I am grateful we crossed paths, two times. RIP (rest in peace), Henry?”

Tony Porter, another African American, who Henry had also supervised, said: “A life lost too soon is tragic, and Gary’s death has affected everyone who knew and loved him.

“Gary had the greatest gift of compassion, which is why everyone was so affected by his death,” he said. “He is already missed dearly. His legacy will be honored and cherished always.”

Luz Santana, who had worked with Henry at BTBC, now working in the Bureau of HIV Control, said he will “forever remain” in her heart.

She said Henry always greeted her with a smile and a hug, adding that he was “always willing to help, dedicated; an all-around sweet, kind person.

“The world lost, too soon, a great person,” Santana said. “I will miss you always.”

Gary Steven Henry was born on Jan. 31, 1967, at Brookdale University Hospital in Brooklyn, the last child of Jamaicans Alvin, Sr. and Valda Henry.

After graduating from James Madison High School in Brooklyn, he then matriculated at the State University of New York (SUNY) Farmingdale before getting his bachelor’s degree in marketing from SUNY Old Westbury in 1991, according to the obituary.

It says Henry was “a loyal and dedicated employee” at DOHMH for over 29 years.

“To know Gary is to love him. He was a jokester/comedian to the very end,” said family members in the obituary. “We all would often tell him that he missed his calling. He would have us in tears laughing and enjoying the time that we spent together.

“He was a kind soul and would often buy (and collect donated) clothes, shoes and food to pack and send overseas,” they added. “He was a helpful hand to those in need. Gary’s dream was to have enough to give to those who did not. He always said that made him happiest.

“Gary loved his family and most of all our mother,” the family continued. “There was a special bond between mother and son that was strong, noticeable and unbreakable. He became our mother’s primary caregiver after her second stroke in 2013 that left her incapacitated and unable to care for herself. He could calm her down when no one else could.  He would say that he was put here to take care of her and that he did.

“He took great care of our mother, and we truly appreciate his daily sacrifices to ensure she was always comfortable and happy,” the family said. “Gary was everyone’s confidant; he was wise beyond his years and gave the most sensible advice. He was willing to listen, when you needed him to listen, and spoke when he had to.”

Henry’s father and older brother, Ricardo, also known as Ricky, predeceased him.

Besides his mother, Henry is survived by six siblings: Jennifer Ector (Ramon), Claudette Andre (Herve), Alvin Henry Jr. (Imogene), Sharon McLean (Peter), Glendon Henry (Carmen) and Vonda Henry; and many other relatives and friends.

Henry’s funeral service took place on April 2 at Bethany Gospel Chapel on Fenimore Street in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

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