POULSBO — Poulsbo City Council member Jim Henry, who is widely credited with helping build a positive relationship between the city and the Suquamish Tribe, died Nov. 26 in Florida while visiting his son.
Mayor Becky Erickson confirmed Henry’s death Nov. 28. Henry was 80 and had been struggling with diabetes-related health issues.
Henry’s survivors include his children, Donna, Shona and Iain. Henry’s wife, Ann, died earlier this year.
The retired Navy chief warrant officer was retiring from the council at the end of the year, after city service that extended back to 1991 — first, as a planning commissioner, and then as a City Council member. Erickson had planned to ask the council to designate Henry as council member emeritus and have him continue on as the city’s liaison to the Suquamish Tribe.
The City Council honored Henry and Suquamish Tribe elder Bob George at the Sept. 6 council meeting.
“Jim was a big part of the government-to-government consultation between the Tribe and the City of Poulsbo,” Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman said Nov. 28. “He demonstrated a commitment and was very active in making sure the two governments were speaking and that we were keeping each other informed of each other’s activities that may impact us.
“More importantly, he was a big part of our community and was active in our events and ceremonies with our veterans group and also with our elders. He will be missed. He was a good presence in our nation here in Suquamish.”
Henry had planned to continue working as with the Tribe after he left his position on the City Council.
“I think the City of Poulsbo wanted him to stay involved in that role with us, so we were looking forward to have him be able to enjoy his retirement but also be active in teaching new council members from the City of Poulsbo on the importance of our relationship,” Forsman said. “That’s going to be left upon the rest of us to carry that legacy on. He empathized with our vision and values and he understood our history and he was sympathetic to our needs as a nation.
“We will miss him supporting us in a lot of the things we were able to do.”
Poulsbo City Council member Ed Stern said Nov. 28 that Henry “took a delight in everything,” noting that Henry was also an active member of the Sons of Norway, made eligible by his wife’s Scottish ancestry which likely included Nordic blood.
“His career is defined by service to country and to community,” Stern said. “In the U.S. Navy, he was one of the first integrated officers in the submarine fleet and became a chief warrant officer, which he was duly proud of. [At City Hall], we kind of shadowed each other — he replaced me on the Planning Commission, then joined me on the council. We recognized we had something of a unique relationship.”
Poulsbo City Council member Connie Lord said that much of her 19-year career on the council has been spent working beside Henry.
“After that length of time we became not just colleagues on the council, but he and I had become really close friends,” Lord said. “It’s a loss for the city because he was so conscientious as a council member and cared so much about Poulsbo. It’s a personal loss for me because he had become a friend. We weren’t just partners on the City Council but we were good friends.”
She added, “I valued his opinions because he had a good heart, he also was sensible. He was not afraid to speak up when he saw something needed some correction.”
Even when they rarely disagreed, Lord said she and Henry always respected each other.
“Most of the time we agreed on things, but even if we didn’t agree, I respected his take and it was a pleasure working with him on the council and I am going to miss him.”
Lord said she had looked forward to seeing Henry continue to be involved after leaving the council.
“I thought we’d have him around or I could have him as my friend for a lot longer.” Lord said. “I know he would not have disengaged, he would have stayed involved to whatever extent he could. It’s a big loss for the city. He was a good man and he was a faithful public servant.”
Poulsbo City Council member Jeff McGinty lauded Henry for his work with the Suquamish Tribe.
“He was instrumental in building our relationships with the Suquamish Tribe. He was able to build a pretty good rapport with them and over the years we’ve gotten to work with them very closely on a lot of our projects and things,” McGinty said.
Recalling Henry’s humor, McGinty explained how Henry would refer to his upbringing in Chicago.
“The thing I remember is we’d be discussing an issue and sometimes he might get frustrated with the bureaucratic process and how things would happen and how long they would take and he would kinda pipe up and go, ‘Well. that’s not the way we did it in Chicago,’ I always got a kick out of that.” McGinty said. “He really had a good sense of humor, he was kind of a jolly guy, very easygoing.”
Of Henry’s leadership style, McGinty said, “When he had a point to make, he’d say, ‘Hold up, what about this?’ So he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, but he wasn’t one to get into a long drawn-out argument either. He’d kind of agree to disagree.
“He was not afraid to speak up and talk about his opinions and his concerns, but he wouldn’t do it in a highly conflictive, combative manner, he’d do it in a constructive discussion.”
Much of what Poulsbo has become, McGinty said, is the result of Henry’s work.
“He was involved with a lot of the development of Poulsbo and had a pretty good vision of where we are going and has been a key factor in making Poulsbo what it is today,” McGinty said.
“I love Poulsbo”
In a June 6 interview with Kitsap News Group, Henry said his health was failing but he enjoyed reflecting on his 24 years of service to the city.
During a conversation at Hot Shots Java about his experiences in Poulsbo — as a resident and as a council member — the native Chicagoan laughed, took a sip of his coffee, and after a thoughtful pause said, “I love Poulsbo.”
Henry joined the Navy in 1955, at a time when most Navy jobs weren’t available to African Americans, and worked his way up from quartermaster seaman to chief warrant officer. He met his future wife while on duty in Scotland. The family settled in Poulsbo when he was stationed at Keyport and, at his family’s urging, he retired in 1986 rather than move the family from their adopted home.
In 1991, Mayor Richard “Mitch” Mitchusson asked him to become a planning commissioner. Henry was appointed to a City Council vacancy in 2000. He would serve on the City Council for all but two of the next 17 years.
Henry was proud of his service, particularly during the city’s survival through the recession during the late 2000s and early 2010s.
“All the other cities were just falling through the roof [economically],” Henry said in the earlier interview. “Not that we were rich, but we managed to keep our heads above water. When things started to get right again, we took off from there, whereas everyone else had to get even again.”
Henry was proud of the city’s relationship with the Suquamish Tribe, a relationship he described as “fantastic.” Henry was the council’s liaison to the Tribe and an active member of the Suquamish Warriors veterans group. He met regularly with Suquamish officials to discuss issues of mutual interest; oulsbo is within the historical territory of the Suquamish Tribe, and the Tribe has treaty-reserved rights here.
Henry worked on several projects during his council career. One of his favorite projects was also one of the most controversial: his support for a magnetic levitation, or maglev, railway from Poulsbo to Bainbridge Island to reduce traffic on Highway 305. The project never materialized.
Henry was one of the few African-Americans in public office in Kitsap County, but he didn’t see a cultural imbalance in local government or in the city. He said his experience living more than 30 years in Poulsbo is far different from when he grew up in Chicago. Race “is not the first thing that comes [to residents’] minds,” Henry said in the earlier interview. “The first thing that comes to [residents’] minds is, ‘Can you do your job?’ This city is almost unique in that regard.”
When asked what advice he had for anyone coming into public office, Henry said: “There is no advice. You come on and you do things your way. Come in and be yourself, don’t argue about everything, and listen.”
— With reporting by Nick Twietmeyer and earlier reporting by then-intern Ian Snively.
JIM HENRY AT A GLANCE
- Born on Sept. 9, 1937 in Chicago, Illinois to James Jr. and Gladys Henry.
- Graduates from David G. Farragut High School on Chicago’s west side in 1955; immediately enlists in the U.S. Navy.
- Accepted into the submarine force as a quartermaster, or enlisted assistant to the navigator. Most of his early career is spent on the East Coast and in Scotland, where he met his future wife, Ann.
- Promoted to warrant officer in 1966; serves aboard fleet tugs, aircraft carriers, and amphibious ships.
- Transferred to Keyport in 1981; he and his family settle in Poulsbo. Retires from the Navy in April 1986 after 31 years of service.
- Appointed by Mayor Mitch Mitchusson to the Planning Commission in 1991.
- Appointed in 2000 to the City Council to complete the term vacated by Donene Munroe; elected to the remaining two years in the term in 2001.
- Unopposed in his bid for a full term in 2003.
- Defeated for reelection by Becky Erickson in 2007.
- Elected to the council in 2009; reelected in 2013.
- In late 2017, announces his retirement because of his health.
- Dies on Nov. 26 at his son’s home in Florida.