Mrs. Hudson heads home
I have sad news: Peggy Henry passed away on Friday, Sept 8. She was surrounded by friends, which is how she lived her life.
Her best friend in life was her late husband, Charles E. (Chuck) Henry. He left us almost seven years ago. The years since then were a long, slow decline and she was more than ready to head home.
Newcomers to the Holmes community won't know Peggy's name, and that's a shame because she was a social, fun person to be with under almost all circumstances. She was very active in the Holmes world with Chuck from the late 1970s through the early years of the 2000's.
She was Mrs. Hudson in the Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes (ASH) and the name was more than appropriate because she kept an excellent house and was a talented cook.
When we had The Cremona Fiddlers of Williamsburg scion back in the 80s and 90s, Chuck and Peggy would open their home in Richmond Va., for our Blue Carbuncle holiday dinner. The table stretched from the dining room through to the living room but no one felt they were left below the salt.
Peggy outperformed herself making the goose stuffed with apples and onions, mashed turnips and and a raspberry trifle so huge it came in a bowl like the one we make a family's worth of popcorn in. (The cooked geese were slippery devils and Chuck took them out to his garage where he put them in a vice and sliced away!)
Those were wondrous meals.
A little background
Peggy grew up in Boston and never lost her accent. Her family was from Bantry, Ireland, and there was always a bit of the Old Country in her. There was also a fair share of the Catholic Church, since she went to Catholic schools and became a dedicated and pious woman. (To the end of her days she could recite her Baltimore Catechism word-for-word. Woe be to anyone who attempted to lecture her on Catholicism.)
Her father died of colon cancer and there often was not a lot of money. In later years she would appreciate the smallest gifts with great joy, remembering the years that went by without any gifts.
Peggy was an excellent student and went to Regis College (then women only) and was soon working for Grass Instrument Company (GIC) in Boston. (Peggy didn't drive until later, so when she first started at GIC she walked about a quarter mile to Powder House Square, took a a bus to Porter Square, Cambridge, then a trolley to Harvard Square and changed to the subway, elevated line out to where she boarded a bus for Wollaston and then walked to the GIC plant. That's dedication.)
She wrote technical manuals for the EEG equipment GIC produced and met Chuck, one of the nation's leading experts in EEG, through her employers. It was love at first sight, despite an age difference, but there was a bigger problem: Chuck was married and his wife didn't want a divorce. Even when a divorce was granted, Peggy had to leave her beloved Church to marry Chuck.
In later years, when the Church relaxed its rules, the two were remarried in the Church and Peggy remained a devout Catholic for the rest of her life. The Church left Peggy. She never left the church.
(Chuck was an atheist. His work in EEG brought him to believe that when the brain stopped, that was it, there was no hereafter. One day while visiting the Henrys I was talking with their neighbor, Bill Pawelski, and noted this difference between Chuck and Peggy. "Chuck doesn't need a religion. He's got Peggy," Bill said sagely.)
The adopted family
I met Chuck and Peggy at a Sherlock Holmes conference at Berry College in Rome, Georgia in the 1980s. We corresponded and soon they were members of the Cremona Fiddlers of Williamsburg. When we decided to put on a Holmes conference in Williamsburg in 1887, Peggy became our secret weapon.
Over the years, Peggy had became a brilliant event planner and she was instrumental to the success of our Williamsburg conference in 1987, as well as it's sister event in 1990. She taught me the importance of "Plan B," and to be agile in planning.
"If everything fails, wing it. Chances are nobody will notice."
Our conferences were HUGE successes, and the money we made from them helped underwrite the group for several years. It was also great getting to know the Henrys. I had an open invitation to their home and wrote a great deal of the material for the 75th anniversary edition of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes while there.
Although he would never admit it, I'm certain Chuck pushed me for membership in the BSI. He and I loved the work of Vincent Starrett, and he would often hand me a Starrett book he knew I did not have. "Read it and let's talk about it the next time you come up."
Peggy was a great reader too, in all subjects. She once joked that her grave marker should read, "I'll be there in a minute, God, as soon as I finish this chapter."
Good-bye Mrs. Hudson
Peggy was the confidant I didn't know I needed. We could talk about anything and I knew her advice was always sound. She had seen a lot of life and knew a few things. She was the fixed point in a changing age.
Peggy was the mother who adopted me. She taught me how to live, and as age took her eyesight, her hearing and her agility, she showed me how to die.
On my last visit a few months ago we spoke quite openly of her death and what a relief it would be. "All I'm good for is praying," she said. I told her she was always in my prayers and that pleased her greatly. We both had a good cry.
Peggy was a devoted Catholic and believed with everything in her Irish soul that she and Chuck would be reunited with their dogs. She said she wanted to prepare dinner for Chuck, and have him invite Arthur Conan Doyle. She had a few questions for Mozart.
I wish I could be there.
If anyone could make it happen, Peggy Henry could.