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Family, music, teaching –‘Miss Henry’ gave her all

Yvonne Angela Henry died on December 10, 2022, at the age of 85. This is an edited version of the December 23 funeral eulogy given by her children Camille and Patrick Henry.

Today we mourn, commemorate, and celebrate the life of our beloved Yvonne Henry. It is difficult to summarise this woman who was larger than life. We hope our eulogy today will show you the qualities that made her beloved: selfless service, strength, and love of family.

Yvonne Angela Chevalier was born on March 1, 1937, the second of six children.

Although their home was humble, we never heard my mother or her siblings fret about deprivation; quite the opposite – they lived a family life rich with love and togetherness, her parents adored and honoured by their children.

Her siblings describe her as fiery, challenging the status quo, never afraid to stand up for herself or others and sometimes (or maybe often!) getting in trouble. Sound familiar?

Her father loved music and played the piano, and the family often sang together. Of the six children, Yvonne took to the instrument, adopting the role of teacher and choir mistress of her siblings.

Yvonne continued her musical training, pursuing classical training on the organ and practising at the Cathedral. In fact, the organ brought her together with her husband Richardson.

They met at her sister’s wedding, where Yvonne was the organist for her first wedding and Richie was the photographer. They were married in 1963 and were a complimentary couple – he, cool as a cucumber, she, a bit more peppery!

Their 39-year marriage had joys and trials, including the death of their second child Debra at age two, but through it all they were loyal and steadfast, devoted to their family.

Considering a career as a woman, the options were limited in those days: civil servant, teacher, nurse. ‘Teacher’ was a natural fit. Teaching was not just her lifelong profession – it was her calling.

After teacher’s training college, she taught at several Catholic schools, arriving at St Joseph’s Boys’ RC school in 1972, retiring as Principal after 25 years. She was an integral part of the teaching corps, with former colleagues referring to her as the backbone of the group.

Known to legions of boys (now men) as ‘Miss Henry’, she was known to be strict but fair, a stickler for discipline and expecting excellence always. I was reminded of the mottos she would post in class: “The Best or Nothing” and “Honesty is the Best Policy”.  She lived up to them always.

There was never a halfway-done job, task or promise. She gave her all to whatever she did. And as for honesty – you always knew where you stood with her – my mother did not mince words.

These qualities were just some that she imparted to her students over the years, from First Year through Standard 5. And they were more than her pupils – they were her boys. She didn’t have just one son, but hundreds.

We could never go anywhere without someone coming up to her – bank, market, airport, grocery, government office, church or on the street – saying “Miss Henry, you remember me? I was in your class”, or “My son was in your class” and then discussing their achievements and how she impacted them on their road to success.

Shortly after her retirement, she embraced the new challenge of being an assistant speech therapist at the T&T Association for the Hearing Impaired from 1999 until 2015; she never flinched from learning new skills to help children.

Again, they were more than just students – she always expressed care and concern for their families.

One of the things we admire about Mummy was her ability to create family no matter the setting. She was open and embracing of anyone and everyone, generous with her time and her talent.

One of her most important families was her spiritual family right here at St Joseph’s RC Church, particularly the choir. She became the organist in late 1970s, retiring in 2017.

Mass after Mass, she devoted time to lead an amazing group of singers who enriched the liturgy with music. She was the organist for countless weddings and funerals in this very church, on an important day in the lives of so many people.

She was also the organist for the Sacred Heart Traditional Choir in Port of Spain. She was part of the choir’s European tour in 1983 culminating in a performance for Pope John Paul II in Rome. We have memorable pictures of her greeting the Pope and singing for him — indeed a highlight of her life.

Her tireless work in the Church was recognised with a Papal Blessing by Pope Benedict XVI.

People have often wondered what it was like to have ‘Mrs Henry’ as a mother. To us, she was simply, beautifully, ‘Mummy’. We miss her golden voice, her warm embrace, her uninhibited laugh, the look she would give when she thought we were being ridiculous.

She was our prayer warrior, always holding her family and friends up to God. She was our style maven, her bold colours emblematic of her bold personality. She was the family chef, fearlessly and deliciously exploring culinary horizons.

We, her children, and her extended family, already miss the colour, the warmth she brought to our lives. There is a hole in our hearts that will never completely be repaired.