Deborah Henry: The Incredible True Story

Ms. Deborah, standing at the entrance to the kitchen in Bolles Hall.
Ms. Deborah, standing at the entrance to the kitchen in Bolles Hall.

“I was in the navy, I drove tractor trailers, I’ve been a printer running printing press machines and high-speed copiers. I used to work at Virginia Wesleyan University. I’ve done a lot of things in life so far.” says Deborah Henry, cracking a small grin from across the table.

Ms. Deborah can usually be found in the Bolles Hall, filling plates, working the registers, and keeping the cafeteria running. Every day, she speaks to hundreds of students and staff members, as they file through the breakfast and lunch lines. Despite the volume of interaction between members of the Bolles community and herself, many are unaware of the incredible life that Ms. Deborah has lived.

“I like to travel because my father was in the army. When I was younger, maybe third or fourth grade, we lived in Ethiopia. I went swimming in the red sea and I got to travel around the country,” began Ms. Deborah, thinking pack to some of the earliest chapters in the story of her life.

As the child of a career soldier, Ms. Deborah has lived all over the globe. Her experience with living in different places, was what sparked her wanderlust. As a young adult, she joined the Navy, in part, to continue seeing the world. “I went in when I was 17,” she said. “I went overseas to Japan for a year and a half and I liked it so much that I extended for six months. Over there (Japan) we ran crash rescue for the airfield. We had these big 40-foot-long metal cabinet cruisers that we would take out if they had an emergency aircraft come in. Our runway was set up where there was water on the beginning side and water on the end so if they missed the runway, they were going in the water.”

At 17 Ms. Deborah was recovering downed aircraft and training to fish planes out of the water. The nonchalance with which she described her former job was stunning. “I worked bottom jobs on boats, using big sanders and getting all the barnacles and the nastiness off there and then repainting them,” she continued.

 “One time we were asked to help find a body. He (the deceased marine) washed his way out to where the river came to the ocean.”

After years of working in the Navy, she got the itch to move on. Now a civilian, Ms. Deborah decided to attend truck driving school. “I wanted to drive the big rigs; I was always fascinated with that. I didn’t want a traditional job,” she said.

She did that for a few years then transitioned to working in an academic setting. “After I got out of truck driving, I got a job at Virginia Wesleyan. I was running their high-speed copiers. I basically made all the tests and handouts for class. I did all the photocopying for all the faculty and staff. I was there for a good 10 years and while I was there, I went and got my education.”

Later, Ms. Deborah left Virginia Wesleyan and relocated to Jacksonville to be closer to her mother and brother. She got a part time job running concession stands at the Arena, Prime Osborn, and the ballpark. “I’ve seen Cher, Prince, Elton John, you name it. Whoever’s been to the Arena. I’ve pretty much been there for it.” She recalled.

However, thirteen years later, Ms. Deborah wanted to return to an academic environment. “That’s how I ended up here (Bolles). I wanted to get back into the education field.”

Combining her experience running concession with her passion for working in a school, Ms. Deborah joined the Bolles’ food service team.

In the brief periods when she’s not on campus, Mrs. Deborah likes to watch MotoGP. MotoGP stands for Grand Prix motorcycle racing and is the pinnacle in international motorcycle competition.

Mrs. Deborah remarked, “You wouldn’t know I’ve been everywhere,” with a chuckle.

Now, we do.