There’s a saying about a road paved with good intentions. But the road Janet Henry is on may be heaven sent.
Henry, a Hall County resident and mother of three, was trying to find a way to remember an important man in her life by giving back the kindness he so often gave others.
"My dad passed away in November of 2010," said Henry. "He died just short of my mom and dad’s 49th wedding anniversary."
Henry describes her father, who she insists would be embarrassed to have his name in a newspaper, as honest, hardworking, determined, honorable, dependable and private.
"If there was one thing we could count on, it was his word."
Henry is using that instilled determination to keep the memory of her father alive in others.
"One night in September, I was laying in bed and realized it had almost been two years (since his passing)," she said. "I knew I wanted to do something again this year but I didn’t know what. As I lay there, I thought of how much he loved his grandchildren, and I knew I wanted to help children but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do it. A couple of days passed and I could hear my dad say ‘Stick to what you know.’"
What she knows, she said adamantly, is purses.
"I can’t walk into a store without at least looking at every purse and usually buying one or two. Last summer, I gave to Goodwill five large trash bags full of purses and still had 58 to give to my purse drive," Henry said. "That’s how much I love them. I need therapy," she added with a chuckle.
Over the last few months, Henry and her husband Daniel, along with their children, have been collecting gently used purses to resell as a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
"I chose St. Jude because it is a well-known hospital that specializes in the care of children," she said. "My dad loved his grandchildren deeply, and I knew he would approve."
Her starting goal: 500. Her final count: nearly 1,000 purses and handbags.
Donations came from everywhere including churches, her kids’ schools and several of her closest friends.
Henry held the first sale last week at Cornerstone Assembly Church in Flowery Branch. That sale alone netted the research hospital almost $900. Another was scheduled to be held this past Saturday.
Her mother, Jackie Deen, just can’t believe the turnout.
"My mother’s reaction to the purse drive has been pure amazement," Henry said. "She is very proud of me. No matter how old we get, it still feels good when our parent(s) are proud of us. She sent me a text message on Monday that read, ‘You amaze me.’ I’m still smiling."
Her father, Henry said, was a Navy man and an electrician by trade. In fact, it was a work related accident in the late 1970s, which left him burned over 60 percent of his body, that made him the courageous survivor Henry remembers. But he was also a loving man in his own way, she said.
"In my eyes, he was larger than life. ... I remember helping him work on cars and other various projects. He taught my sister and I how to handle and shoot guns at an early age."
And she added, he enjoyed being knowledgeable in many areas of interest.
Henry insists however, that her father was just an ordinary man and the purse drive was simply a daughter’s way of dealing with her loss.
"Some may look at what I’m doing and think, ‘Wow, your dad must have been an extraordinary man.’ He was not," she said. "He was an ordinary man who did what he needed to do to provide for his family. He was a survivor. He was a fighter. He dealt with life the best way he knew how. He didn’t view himself as a hero or as someone special. Only those who loved him saw him that way, ’specially me."
Still, there are days, Henry said, it just doesn’t seem real.
"He was gone so quickly. We love him dearly and miss him greatly."
She hopes the donation to St. Jude will help her remember the father she so loved.
"What I want for people to take from this ... is the desire to help others. By helping others, I am helping myself. Everyone deals with loss differently; this is my way."