A Man of Action, a Man of Faith

November 6, 2001

The Sunday night before that Tuesday, Shirley Henderson had a prophetic dream. She was in a cave, digging. As she entered a series of compartments, she saw others also digging. A bright, bright light beckoned her into one compartment, she recalled. There she saw her baby son, Doron, lying in a fetal position, crying. She asked him what was wrong but he just kept crying, screaming.

Going on two months since the Twin Towers collapsed, Shirley Henderson is still hoping that the digging at Ground Zero will uncover some trace of her husband, Ronnie L. Henderson. A veteran firefighter with Engine Co. 279, Ladder 131, in Brooklyn's Red Hook section, Henderson, 52, reportedly was in Tower One when he was last heard from. "The minute that building went down, I felt a part of me die," Shirley Henderson said. "I knew Ronnie was in there."

She and her husband of 20 years were dating back in 1978, when he was trying to scale the barriers that kept blacks beyond the doors of the city's firehouses, Shirley Henderson said. "I remember him saying, 'I'm going to get this job.' He was determined because he felt African-Americans were not represented enough in the firehouse." Later in his career, he even took it on himself to hand out applications to young African-Americans. "He was the type of person who if something had to be changed, it had to start with him," Henderson said of her husband. "He was a man of action."

Her husband was also a man of God, Shirley Henderson said.

He was a member of the Church of God by Faith in Newburgh, N.Y., where a memorial for him was held Oct. 14. Even in his fire truck, his Bible was always within reach. A veteran of Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, the former Marine led prayer meetings in the Saudi Arabian desert, his wife said. "If we could talk now, he would tell me to rejoice because he's in the kingdom of God."

Henderson was born in Charleston, W.Va. At 13, he moved to Brooklyn with his mother and stepfather, the late Wilda Laruth Henderson and Valestine S. Dillard. After graduating from Alexander Hamilton High School, he worked as a longshoreman and later attended John Jay College in Manhattan.

On the night before the attack, he had stayed over at the Queens home of his best friend, Bruce Platt, an EMS worker with the city's Fire Department, so he wouldn't have to commute from his home in Newburgh to begin his 9 a.m.-6 p.m. tour Sept. 11, his wife said. As Platt tells it, Shirley Henderson said, her husband stayed up half the night telling his friend how much he loved her and their four children, Marshall, 27, Lakimmie, 25, Hashim, 20 and Doron.

On the day of the attack, his company, located just across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, was one of the first to be dispatched to the World Trade Center. Engine Co.279 lost four firefighters, including her husband, Shirley Henderson said. But if he could live his life again, he wouldn't change anything. "He loved being a New York City firefighter," she said.

-- Collin Nash (Newsday)