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Long IslandObituaries

Fourth-generation NYSE specialist Charles Henderson dies

Charles Henderson, whose family firm, Henderson Brothers Inc., was a leader in specialist floor trading in the pre-automation heyday of the New York Stock Exchange, has died. He was 88.

He died Wednesday of heart failure in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he lived, his son, David, said. He had entered the hospital three weeks ago for emergency surgery and developed pneumonia, his son said.

Henderson Brothers -- now part of New York-based Cowen Group Inc. -- supplied one of Wall Street's deepest family traditions. The company was founded in 1861 by Henderson's great-grandfather, William T. Henderson, making Charles the fourth generation to run it. He was chairman of the firm from the mid-1960s, when he succeeded his father, John, to his retirement in the mid-1980s.

"When he was born, he had big shoes to fill," said David Henderson, a broker in New York. "And he filled them better than anyone could have imagined."

As specialists, Henderson traders had exclusive province over certain stocks. They were responsible for making markets in the trading of blue-chip companies including Ford Motor Co., American Express Inc. and, beginning in 1988, JPMorgan & Co., a predecessor of JPMorgan Chase & Co.

In a 2011 profile in the Palm Beach Daily News, Henderson recalled the days when specialists clogged the NYSE trading floor.

"It was all going on down there at one time," he said. "We were working with Bausch & Lomb, and all of a sudden they discovered these new lenses you could put in your eyes. The stock took off. Then another day, when it was running high, they find out the drops could hurt your eyes. The stock plunged."

Another time, he said, "Parke-Davis, one of the big drug companies, came out with their birth control pill and supposedly the pope was going to approve it. So the stock went wild. But he never did."

Charles Fistie Henderson II was born on Dec. 15, 1924, and raised in South Orange, N.J. Named for his grandfather, he was the oldest of seven children. He attended Seton Hall Preparatory School and had begun his studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, when he was called to duty in the Navy in World War II.

In 1948, he bought a seat on the New York Stock Exchange for $48,000. "I borrowed the money from my grandmother and I paid her back," he recalled. "But I was making $5,000 a year, which was a big deal."

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