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Remembering the extraordinary life of Annie Henry, 104, of Gordon Heights

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The Annie Henry story is one of finding strength, overcoming obstacles and spreading kindness.

Henry passed away at 104 on Jan. 30, leaving behind her only daughter, Carmen Henry Wilkinson, two grandchildren, five great-grandchildren, many godchildren and long-lasting friendships forged in her Gordon Heights community.

A WWII veteran, community volunteer, educator, youth advocate, and more, her granddaughter, Tamika Mendoza, says Henry came from so little but gave so much to others throughout her 104 years of life. 

“She was a grandma to all,” Mendoza said. “I’d like her to be remembered as someone who fought, not in a loud mean voice, but one that was quiet and powerful.” 

A trailblazer who rose above

Born on August 2, 1917, in Talladega, Ala., Henry faced many barriers growing up in the Jim Crow South.

She came from humble beginnings, living with her grandmother and grandfather, who was a sharecropper. 

Despite the racial segregation and anti-black laws created by white Southerners during this time, Henry persevered; she was a survivor. 

“Even with the many things she endured, she never held a grudge,” Mendoza said. “She learned and thrived — even though she was African-American in the segregated South, she never saw color like that, we were always taught that everyone has a place and a purpose.” 

She went on to complete high school and attend Talladega College from 1936 to 1939. She took her education one step further by going to Cortez Peters Business School in 1941. 

After working at Talladega High School in 1940, she served in the United States Women’s Army Corps during World War II as a Technician 5th Grade at Fort Bragg, N.C., until the end of the war. 

She met her husband, Vincent, who also served in World War II. They moved in 1946, after the war, to Gordon Heights, a hamlet in the Town of Brookhaven. 

Following two stillbirths and two miscarriages, Henry gave birth to her daughter, Carmen, at the age of 42 in 1955.

Henry received a blood transfusion after birth, got jaundice, and due to tainted blood, became paralyzed from the waist down and remained that way for three years. Her husband cared for her through that challenging time and once she regained her ability to walk, Mendoza said she didn’t stop.

“She never sat down, was hardly ever sick,” Mendoza said. “She lived such a long life and never quit — however high the obstacle might be — always climb, always reach for more.

“That’s how I want her to be remembered.”

A grandmother to all

Her granddaughter described Henry as a “dedicated, humble servant.” She became known as “Grandma Annie” throughout the community. 

She dedicated 31 years to the Gordon Heights Fire District as its Secretary-Treasurer — making her their longest-serving employee. 

Henry also volunteered her time for nearly two decades, fostered “thousands” of children as a devoted Foster Grandparent for Brookhaven Head Start, was a deaconess and director of the after school program for Faith Baptist Church, and served as a Longwood School District food service employee for 18 years. 

Not only has Henry left her mark in her suburb, she earned recognition from the White House, New York State, the Town of Brookhaven, and countless other organizations and groups for her incredible achievements during the last century. 

A few of Henry’s “secrets” to living a long life were to never go to bed angry, she barely drank and never shied away from indulging in her favorite dessert: apple pie, heated with vanilla ice cream.

“We used to go to Ducks games together, go out to brunch, lunch, and dinner together, we had some great experiences and I really enjoyed her time,” said Vincent Mendoza, Henry’s great-grandson. “I don’t really want to be upset, I’d rather celebrate her life.”

Above all, Mendoza added that her unconditional love for her family, especially for Carmen, is what kept her going. 

“My grandmother was a fighter and she brought that light with her,” Mendoza said.

“Even when it was dark, bleak or gray, she would radiate light and joy.” 

Story continues after photo.

A celebration of life

Among the sadness, immense pride and adoration filled the air as Henry was laid to rest at Washington Memorial Park in Mount Sinai on Feb. 16.

Mendoza recalls the honor guard playing taps and the ceremonial folding and presentation of the American flag for Henry’s service in the Armed Forces. 

All of Henry’s life achievements came full circle at that moment, she said.

“She gave so much of herself to the service, but then at the end of her life, to recognize her, play taps and have representatives that were both male and female … that tribute, I cried,” Mendoza said.

Her granddaughter also emphasized the importance of being able to honor Henry and her contributions during Black History Month.

“Her history was every day, it wasn’t just in a month, it was over a century,” Mendoza said. “The fact that we can, in this month, tell her story…it will continue to live on for the future.” 

Scroll down for more photos of Annie Henry’s Homegoing Ceremony and burial taken by Andrew Theodorakis of Yellow House Images.

Top: 104-year-old Annie Henry. Photo courtesy of Dignity Memorial.