John W. Henry Jr., who was the first African American administrator to be hired at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and later held several significant posts in the mayoral administration of Kurt L. Schmoke, died July 16 at Keswick Multi-Care Center of complications following surgery. The Homewood resident was 83.
“First off, Wayman was a wonderful person and the best words to describe him would be that he was a gentle man,” Mr. Schmoke said. “He was a real worker in the community solving community problems. I worked with him in both political campaigns and in government and whenever a tense issue came up, he always brought a calm demeanor to the resolution to the problem leaving all feeling satisfied. He had a nice calming smile.”
John Wayman Henry Jr., son of the Rev. Dr. John W. Henry Sr., an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and his wife, the Rev. Mary Walker Henry, who was also an African Methodist Episcopal minister, was born in Richmond, Virginia, and spent his early years in Virginia, on the Eastern Shore, and finally in Baltimore when his father was named pastor of Allen Methodist Episcopal Church on West Lexington Street.
Mr. Henry, who was known as Wayman, learned to play piano and assisted his various church families in the music ministry. It was also where he developed a keen appreciation for all types of music, which followed him throughout his life.
Mr. Henry was also a descendant of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
“Because of Frederick Douglass, my father was steeped in the tradition of abolitionism and freedom,” said his daughter, Carla Waynette Henry Hopkins of Northeast Baltimore.
Raised on Brighton Street in West Baltimore, Mr. Henry was a graduate of the George Washington Carver High School in Elkton. After high school, he began his college studies at what is now Morgan State University where he became a member of the ROTC, the Pershing Rifles and the Young Democratic Club.
“After two years, at Morgan, he was asked to leave the school by Morgan’s president because of his social activism,” his daughter wrote in a biographical profile of her father. “That would serve as the best dismissal of his life.”
Mr. Henry transferred to Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, his father’s alma mater, where he fell in love with a fellow student, the former Carlene Elizabeth Curry, whom he married in 1963.
At Wilberforce, he was president of the Pre-Law Council, president of the Sphinx Club, and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. He also ran intramural track, and played football and basketball.
After graduating in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, he was drafted into the Army where he was initially assigned to the Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama. He served four years stateside and abroad before being discharged in 1966.
When he left the Army, he moved to Jamaica in Queens, New York, with his wife, a social worker, and began his career working for the New York City Department of Welfare while continuing his social activism in his new community.
After a group of Black medical professionals received a federal grant to build a medical center in the neighborhood, they selected Mr. Henry to oversee its construction and then administer the George and Robert Carter Community Medical Center.
In 1970, he returned to Baltimore to care for his ailing father and ”was offered a position that would later break barriers for one of the leading medical institutions in the world,” Ms. Hopkins wrote. “Johns Hopkins Hospital, after the pressure of the result of civil rights legislation and in order to diversify their senior staff, hired Wayman as their ‘first’ African American hospital administrator.”
For the next decade until he left Hopkins in 1980, Mr. Henry’s role was recruiting and hiring Black medical professionals. His first hire was Dr. Levi Watkins, his fraternity brother, who became one of Hopkins’ most notable cardiac surgeons.
While using the template of his New York community medical center, he joined Black health professionals in Baltimore to establish The East Baltimore Medical Plan through Johns Hopkins Hospital that is now known as the Johns Hopkins Physicians East Baltimore Medical Center in the 1000 block of E. Eager St.
“He was a solid and reliable administrator without a lot of drama,” said Larry Gibson, a civil rights leader, professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and author.
“If you had a job to get done managing people — I saw it at political events — you’d talk to Wayman who said, ‘We’ll get it done,’ and as I said before, there was a total absence of complications from drama. He was always a calming influence,” Mr. Gibson said. “He was decent, pleasant and competent. That was Wayman.”
During this time, Mr. Henry earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Baltimore and then began teaching part time at the Community College of Baltimore in job development and coordinator in the department of Business Technology, Social Sciences and Behavior.
When Mr. Schmoke was elected mayor in 1987, he asked Mr. Henry to be director of the Mayor’s Stations Program, and later commissioner of the Urban Services Agency and law administrative officer at the Baltimore City Solicitor’s Office.
“In these roles,” his daughter wrote, “he was proud of helping to support the people in underserved communities.”
As a member of the East End Forum political group, he advised such community activists as Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Al Robinson and Robert Stokes in helping them launch their political careers.
“The old-time political clubs no longer exist, but there used to be the west side and the east side and Wayman was a bridge,” Mr. Schmoke said. “He saw the need to work together in order to make progress in the city. He truly was an ambassador.”
Mr. Henry had been an active member of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church for 50 years, where he had been a member of the steward board, senior choir, class leader and Sunday school teacher.
He had been a faithful member of the lay organization and eventually served as vice president of his local church before being elected to serve as president of the Baltimore Conference Lay Organization.
The longtime Ednor Gardens resident had been an active member from 1985 to 2007 of the Lakeside-Ednor Gardens Community Association. He had also been a member of the NAACP and the Urban League.
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In addition to his daughter, Mr. Henry is survived by his son, John Wayman Henry III of West Orange, New Jersey; a brother, Clifton W. Henry of Williamsburg, Virginia; a sister, Rosemary JoAnn Henry of Baltimore; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.