Grieving Community Pillars
Our community suffered the passing of three beloved people recently, Dr.
Virginia Ruth McKinney Henderson, Mrs. Eyvonne Crawford-Gray and
Coach Anthony “Tony” Jones. I only knew Dr. Virginia Henderson
personally, but I knew of the good works of all three of these community
leaders. I was aware that Mrs. Crawford-Gray was the first African
American woman elected as Dane County Board supervisor, but I also knew
her food intimately since I had eaten and enjoyed her delicious food for
When I directed the Academic Center for Excellence, a Nehemiah
afterschool and summer learning program, I made it a point to take the
students to the Wholly Mackerel restaurant that her family co-owned. I
heard of Coach Tony, a basketball coach for several Madison teams,
through mutual friends, that witnessed his love of family, community and
the game of basketball. He was the youngest to pass on. All three of their
deaths and funerals were close together and our community will miss the
wisdom, dedication and consistent love that all of them shared with us.
I have been reflecting on their legacy to Madison, in general, and African
Americans in particular, as a way of lessening the grief of missing their
presence among us. I met Dr. Virginia Henderson when I had an idea in my
heart about how to help support African American students in the Madison
Metropolitan School District. I had completed a Master’s in Afro-American
Studies and one in African Languages and Literature, and based on that
scholarship, I created a self-knowledge/self-esteem curriculum. I believed
that using factual history about Black people and Black achievements, facts
that were missing from the school curriculum, would help empower our
young to know their potential to be a generation of great leaders. I wanted
to launch “Do You Know Who You Are” self-knowledge/self-esteem
groups for students.
Dr. Henderson helped make my dream a reality by connecting me with the
school district and getting me into schools. More than that, she
encouraged me in my love for education as an important tool to transform
the lives of students.
One of my favorite stories that she shared about her educational journey is
that after working on her dissertation, she would keep it in the refrigerator
because she was determined that nothing could happen to it, not even if her
house caught on fire.
Drs. Perry and Virginia Henderson were a double blessing because Dr. Perry
helped bring “high risk” babies to full term and into life through his medical
practice, and then, Dr. Virginia helped bring students, categorized as “high
risk,” into their full academic potential. The Hendersons were quite the
loving team and 61 years of marriage gave phenomenal testimony to faith in
God, academic excellence, care for each other and family and commitment to
This high regard for family and community was also present in the lives of
Mrs. Crawford-Gray and Coach Tony Jones. They, too, were shining
examples of good people who did right, whether seen or unseen,
acknowledged or unacknowledged, by others. While reflecting on each
person’s legacy, I begin to realize how fortunate we all are to have known
Dr. Virginia Henderson, Mrs. Eyvonne Crawford-Gray, and Coach Tony
Jones. We were fortunate to love them and be included in their lives. One
way that we can honor their memory is to continue the good and hard work
they did for Madison, in general, and African Americans in particular in
whatever ways we can. We can also thank them by remembering their
family members with kindness, understanding, prayers, cards of
encouragement and visits. For all of you incredible leaders, who are still
working hard on our behalf, we thank you and want to tell you how much
you are appreciated right now. The passing of Dr. Virginia Henderson, Mrs.
Eyvonne Crawford-Gray and Coach Tony Jones reminds us of how precious
is our time together as family.