There were tears, hugs and words of comfort offered Wednesday to those mourning the sudden death of Stephenville Junior High School Principal Paul Henderson.
But for all the grief, the strong spirit of the man whose life touched so many could still be felt throughout the campus he loved so dearly.
“I have never encountered anyone who loved their job more than Paul Henderson loved his,” Debbie Hines, assistant superintendent for personnel and instruction, said.
“He lived his dream - and that was to educate children.”
The sudden death of Henderson late Tuesday night, which resulted from an apparent heart attack, devastated those who knew him best. Anticipating an outpouring of grief, Hines said school district officials immediately implemented a plan they have had in place for years to help students and faculty members deal with grief situations.
Everyone from school administrators and guidance counselors from other campuses to church ministers and parent volunteers were at the school Wednesday to help.
Superintendent Dr. Darrell Floyd said he and Assistant Principal Bob Cervetto met with school faculty early Wednesday morning, then brought students together in the auditorium to break the news of Henderson’s death.
“The kids were just great, but this is really tough,” Floyd said. “The main thing we wanted to convey is that people grieve in different ways. We told them to feel free to grieve any way they needed.”
Hines said Dr. Joyce Anderson, SISD director of guidance, testing and curriculum, was responsible for heading up the effort to ensure that those who needed grief counseling received the help they needed.
The school, she said, was overwhelmed with help following the news of Henderson’s death. She said various churches brought in lunch for teachers as a way to help them get through the day and give them breaks as needed.
“We knew this day would be especially difficult for the teachers,” Hines said. “But every one of them came to work to support the students. They knew that this is what Mr. Henderson would have wanted. He would have wanted us to move forward.”
And that’s just what they did.
Determined to follow through on what they knew would be Henderson’s wishes, school administrators decided to try and keep things as normal as possible throughout the school day.
Hines said students did attend classes, though classroom work expectations were “appropriately modified” for students and teachers to function under the extreme circumstances.
Hines said that overall, students seemed to handle the news of losing their beloved principal “as well as can be expected.”
“We’ve got a very special community and a very special group of young people,” Hines said.
“Mr. Henderson would be proud of the way they are handling this.”