Tribute For Deborah Henson, Church Member With Generous Spirit, Dies at 56


This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

When Facebook first rose in popularity, Deborah Henson found in the social media network an outlet for two of her favorite forms of expression: clothing and photography. Her selfies often displayed new outfits next to words of encouragement and inspirational messages.

“She was a Facebook diva,” said David Williams, her brother.

Fashion, though, was never a self-indulgent hobby. As a member of Isom Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Ocala, Fla., where her husband is the pastor, she routinely loaded her car with racks of her own dresses and boxes of shoes to donate to other congregants. She counseled church members, including couples and victims of domestic abuse. The church was a second home to her.

“Her input into my ministry was truly awesome,” her husband, Djuan Henson, said.

That generosity was apparent in nearly every aspect of Mrs. Henson’s life. After her parents died, she took on a matriarchal role and found reasons for bringing the family together. “My sister really stepped up and became the backbone of the family,” Mr. Williams said. She “knew all the birthdays. She was the organizer of family reunions.”

On Father’s Day this year, Mrs. Henson called one of her daughters and said she was having trouble breathing. She was taken to a hospital and quickly placed in an I.C.U., where she remained for almost three weeks.

She died on July 11 at AdventHealth Orlando in Florida. She was 56. The cause was Covid-19 and complications of diabetes, multiple sclerosis and hypertension Mr. Henson said.

Deborah Denise Henson was born on Sept. 3, 1963, in Orlando to Willie Gus Williams, a carpenter, and Ida (Parmer) Williams, a homemaker. As a child, she displayed a keen sense of empathy.

“We’d hear the ice cream truck coming down the street,” Mr. Williams said. “My sister’s friend never had enough for a Popsicle. My sister would always buy the Popsicle and would split it in half.”

After graduating from high school, she worked clerical jobs. One evening she sat down for dinner at an Orlando restaurant where Mr. Henson was a waiter. He never let her glass of iced tea go empty. The two exchanged phone numbers.

“She picked me up from work the next day,” Mr. Henson said. “I tell everyone she’s been picking me up ever since.”

In addition to her husband and Mr. Williams, Mrs. Henson is survived by two daughters from a previous marriage, Johnetta Watson and JeQuel Gordon; a stepson, Djuan Henson Jr.; three other brothers, Archie Crews, James Crews and Tony Williams; and five grandchildren.

In 2003, Mrs. Henson had an accident that ruptured three vertebrae. Multiple surgeries followed, and a permanent metal plate was inserted in her back. Though she could no longer work in an office because of near-constant pain, she would still volunteer at the church, counseling and aiding women who had suffered domestic violence. She also regularly checked on homeless men and women she met and tried to find them support.

Mr. Williams, who was homeless himself for a time, recalled his sister’s encouragement. “She told me you can always achieve that which you reach for,” he said.



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