James “Jimmy” Henderson, a longtime member of the East Moriches Fire Department and security guard at the Central Moriches school district, touched the hearts of thousands in his community.
In the 33 years he worked as fire police at the fire department and the 14 years he worked in the school district, Henderson got close to many members of the community, greeting everybody with a smile and a peace sign, said his niece, Rita Henderson, 60, of East Moriches.
"He was loved by all,” she said. “Everybody respected him, and he respected them.”
James Henderson died Tuesday at the Kanas Center for Hospice Care in Quiogue from cancer, Rita Henderson said. He was 78.
"Jimmy was an outstanding person,” said Joseph Townsend, security supervisor for the Center Moriches school district. “He loved life, he loved the kids — he would always give them the peace sign.”
Born in Warren County, North Carolina, in 1940, Henderson moved to East Moriches with his parents in 1944, Rita Henderson said. He went to Central Moriches High School, then worked in security for what is now Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, Grumman, and the East and Center Moriches school districts, his niece said.
In the early 1970s, Henderson became one of the first EMTs of East Moriches Community Ambulance and eventually became the first African-American chief of department in 1980, said current department Chief Dawn Meyer. Henderson was also the first chief to allow women to become full members of the department, she said.
Henderson started working as fire police with the fire department in 1985, serving as captain for several years, Assistant Chief Lenny Kalmar said. He would go to fire scenes, shut the road down and redirect traffic.
“You did not want to go through that barricade that Jimmy had there,” Kalmar said. “He told you to turn, you would turn.”
In 2004, he started working for the Central Moriches school district as the nighttime security guard.
During his shifts, he became a fervent fan of the district's sports teams, Rita Henderson said. His easygoing nature made him a favorite among students, teachers and staff, she said.
When he wasn’t working, Henderson would spend time outdoors, going out on the boat he shared with his friends, camping or touring the North Fork on his Harley-Davidson with Kalmar.
“I hope there were more Jimmy Hendersons in the world,” Kalmar said. “The world would be a better place. It’s me saying it, but there’s about 10,000 people in East Moriches who would say it too.”
A wake will be held Sunday at Wesche Funeral Home in Center Moriches from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. The fire department will also hold a firematic service, traditional firefighter funeral service, on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. A private religious service will be held 10 a.m. Monday at Christ Lutheran Church. He will be interred Monday at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.