In Praise of Brad Henry

[This column by Brandon Dutcher was published on Father's Day 2010 in The Oklahoman and earned a first-place award from the Society of Professional Journalists (Oklahoma chapter).]

As a conservative, I find myself disagreeing with Gov. Brad Henry on lots of things—taxes and toddlers, guns and gambling, plaintiffs and penumbras, Obama and Obamacare. And through the years I have not hesitated to exercise my First Amendment rights with respect to those disagreements.

But I've never forgotten something the actor and economist Ben Stein once said: "Life is personal, not political."

Many Oklahomans may be aware that Henry and his wife, Kim, have experienced tragedy. Their daughter Leah, now 20, had a twin sister, Lindsey, who was born with a rare disease called spinal muscular atrophy. At just 7 months old, Lindsey died in her parents' arms.

As it happens, in God's hard providence, my wife, Susie, and I experienced our own heartbreak last year when our infant daughter, Anne Marie, died in her mother's arms. Five days later, we received a very moving letter from … Brad Henry.

"Kim and I know the pain and anguish of losing a child; but we also know the lifetime of joy that such a small person can give in such a short time,” he wrote. "God placed Anne Marie in your care for a mighty purpose; and the loving hand of God will help guide you through the darkness of grief.

"If there is anything we can do to help comfort you during this difficult time," wrote the man whom I have repeatedly criticized, "if you need someone to talk to who has had a similar experience, please do us the favor of calling on us."

Magnanimity, anyone?

Having seen that generosity of spirit, I wasn't surprised recently when I saw something else from the governor: fortitude.

Under legislation that made its way through the Oklahoma House and Senate this year, children with disabilities—those for whom an individualized education program has been developed—would be eligible to receive a scholarship to attend a private school.

The education establishment (warning: understatement ahead) opposed the bill. But the governor read it and thought it made sense. He even allowed it to be named for one particular child who has a special place in his heart. And with a stroke of his pen, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program was born.

Neither the governor nor anyone connected to him asked for the bill to be named for Lindsey. Rather, as state House Speaker Pro Tem Kris Steele pointed out, "It was suggested to him as a way to honor the memory of his daughter and let it be known for generations to come that she, and her parents, are helping to improve the lives of special-needs children across the state."

So as the years pass, and you hear stories of disabled kids whose lives were changed because a scholarship gave them a chance to try something new, I encourage you to think of that little girl. I know I will.

Thank you, Gov. Henry. And happy Father's Day.

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