Norman Henley (Baltimore Sun / March 26, 2012)

Norman Henley, a retired Russian-language and world literature teacher and academic editor, died of congestive heart failure at the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville. He was 96 and had earlier lived in Remington and Charles Village.

Born in Auburndale, Mass., he earned a bachelor of arts degree at Boston University. He then studied at Andover-Newton Theological School and the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif. While a student in Boston, he worked as a hospital orderly and assisted in the care of the injured in the 1942 Cocoanut Grove nightclub fire.

He became a Congregationalist minister and served in churches in Oregon and Vermont.

"His first church was in a small village in Oregon and he preached a sermon against the internment of the Japanese during the war. It was not a popular position to take," said his son, Christopher Henley of Ithaca, N.Y. "He had a strong streak of social justice and was not given to anger or righteous indignation."

After World War II, he served with the Army in the occupation in Italy. Family members said that he developed a lifetime love of opera and classical music there.

"He believed the best of everybody," said his son, a Cornell University physics professor. "He was absolutely humble. He had no malice. He had no interest in recognition."

After his discharge from the Army, he attended graduate school at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and the University of Paris, the Sorbonne and Harvard University, where he earned a doctorate in Slavic studies.

He moved to Washington and worked briefly as a secretary to the Mayflower Hotel's chef. He then worked as a Slavic language cataloger at the Library of Congress.

He moved to Baltimore and from 1959 to 1988 taught at the Johns Hopkins University and from 1972 to 1981 at Essex Community College.

"His first love was literature," said his former wife, Nancy Main, who is a retired UCLA professor emerita. "He read the books over and over again before teaching a class."

She said he often walked to classes from his Abell Avenue home attired in a beret and carrying a green Harvard book bag.

Mr. Henley edited the "Russian Prose Reader" in 1963 and translated Aleksandr Pushkin's "Tales of the Late Ivan Petrovich Belkin" in 1965 and "Without a Dowry & Other Plays" by Alexander Ostrovsky in 1997.

Although Mr. Henley decided not to pursue the ministry after his discharge from the Army, he remained an active churchgoer. He was a longtime member and former head usher of the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation.

"He was the face of the cathedral for a long time," said Fran Brown, a member of the bishop's staff at the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. "He was warm, kind and welcoming. He was the kind of person who made everybody feel at home."

She said he had the ability to draw a newcomer out and often jotted notes about them. He then shared these facts with the clergy.

"When the church doors closed, he took what he learned there home and lived his life in Christian faith," said Ms. Brown. "To him, every stranger was an angel."

Friends recalled that Mr. Henley was known for his helpfulness to others. When a member of the cathedral's congregation, Ephraim Oduche, an immigrant from Nigeria, faced amputation of his foot, Mr. Henley took him into his home for his recuperation. They remained friends.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. March 31 at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, 4 E. University Parkway.

In addition to his son, survivors include a grandson. He also had a 25-year relationship with Frances Hurwitz of Newark, Del., who died in 2006.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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