Obituary: Mary Dyer Henderson / Teacher, former Pittsburgh Press photographer

Nov. 7, 1921 - Aug. 2, 2013

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Somehow, Mary Dyer Henderson found a way to do it all, and do it well. She earned several college degrees, joined the Marines during World War II, worked as a photographer and teacher, raised and supported seven children -- and made beautiful clothes for them all.

Their mother didn't sit down often, said her children, who had gathered Friday evening in the Henderson home in Dormont.

"Not lost in all that flurry of activity, she was a wonderful mother," said daughter Mary Gasdick of Danville, Pa.

"She never gave us the impression that we were too much trouble," added daughter Nancy Nixon of State College. "We tried very hard to give her that impression -- that we were too much trouble -- but she never picked up on it."

Ms. Henderson died Friday at age 91.

Born in Pittsburgh on Nov. 7, 1921, and raised in Beechview, Ms. Henderson graduated from St. Francis Academy, a former all-girls Catholic high school in Whitehall, in 1939 and studied journalism at Carnegie Mellon University. After graduating from college, Ms. Henderson worked for a time as a photographer for The Pittsburgh Press, then enlisted with the Marines and served at Camp Lejeune, N.C., giving weather reports to incoming airmen.

"In those days, they felt the voice of a female was soothing to pilots coming in from combat missions," Ms. Nixon said.

Ms. Henderson married one of those pilots in 1944, then returned home to live with her parents and give birth to her first child, son Joseph Jr. Her husband, Joseph, was transferred from China to Hawaii, so with her 6-month-old son in tow, Ms. Henderson hopped on a plane and went to live in Honolulu for a year.

The couple then moved to Roswell, N.M., and finally returned to Pittsburgh, where they settled in the South Hills in 1949 and soon became members of St. Bernard Parish.

For many years, Ms. Henderson stayed home to take care of their children but after she and her husband divorced in 1959, she not only went back to work but also went back to school, her children said.

"When she came to the point where she had to be the financial provider for the family, then she had to find a new career," Ms. Nixon said.

Using an emergency teaching certificate, Ms. Henderson found a job as an English teacher at St. Benedict Academy in Ross in 1960, while also beginning work on her master's degree in education from Duquesne University. She ultimately earned both her master's degree and her teaching certificate.

"If I could be half the person my mother was, I would be so happy, and I think the others would say the same," said her daughter Margi Henderson of Dormont.

Despite her busy schedule, Ms. Henderson continued making beautiful, perfectly tailored clothes for her children and she never stopped reading. She read the daily newspapers, weekly news magazines and, especially in the early years while she was honing her teaching skills, book after book of classical literature.

For many years, her car bore a bumper sticker that stated, "I'd rather be reading Jane Austen," Ms. Nixon said. "My mother read just about everything she could put her hands on."

Ms. Henderson became the head of the English department at St. Benedict, but had to find other work after the school closed in the mid-1980s. She then taught classes at Point Park University, Robert Morris University and Penn State University, Beaver and continued work until her mid-70s, her children said.

Even after retirement, Ms. Henderson continued her education with classes in foreign languages -- Japanese, Gaelic, Portugese -- along with statistics, architecture and other interests. And she used her language skills abroad, traveling to Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Quebec and often staying in Elderhostels while overseas.

As recently as Wednesday, she was alert, making jokes and singing songs from old musicals. She answered the question of whether her granddaughter Annie should visit that evening or the next day with, "Tomorrow, tomorrow/I love you tomorrow/It's only a day away," from the musical "Annie," Ms. Nixon said.

That evening, her mother looked back on her life and felt no regret, Ms. Nixon said.

"I wouldn't change a thing in my life," she told her daughter. "Not even the hard times."

Ms. Henderson is survived by her children, Margi Henderson of Dormont; Patricia Fuller of Exeter, Calif.; Mary Gasdick of Danville, Pa.; Robert Henderson of Pittsboro, N.C.; David Henderson of Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and Nancy Nixon of State College.

Visitation is from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at Laughlin Memorial Chapel, Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Bernard Church, followed by interment in Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.

obituaries

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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