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Former Suffolk District Attorney Patrick Henry dies at 88

Longtime criminal justice leader remembered for his attention to every case he tried, unwavering principles, a sharp sense of humor, and a dedication to family.

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Patrick Henry at

Former Suffolk County District Attorney Patrick Henry at the Suffolk Criminal Courts Building in Riverhead on Dec. 7, 1986. Photo Credit: John Paraskevas

Patrick Henry, a dominant figure in Suffolk’s criminal justice system for three decades as the county’s Republican district attorney, a state Supreme Court Justice and a mentor to a generation of prosecutors and jurists, died at home Sunday. He was 88.

Henry died surrounded by family at his Bay Shore home after suffering cardiac arrest a week earlier. While Henry had been on dialysis for eight years, he maintained his law office and worked until last month.

“Justice Henry has been an icon for years,” said A. Gail Prudenti, the state’s former chief administrative judge and dean of Hofstra Law School. “People have revered and admired his sense of justice, and his attention to each and every case he tried.”

Prudenti, who tried her first case while in Henry’s office, said “his impact on the careers of so many will endure for many years to come.”

Henry served 12 years as Suffolk district attorney from 1978 to 1990, returning the seat to Republicans after the first Democrat in a century, Henry O’Brien won in 1973. A year later, he was elected as a state Supreme Court justice, serving 16 years until retirement. In his final years as a Supreme Court justice, Henry was also the supervising judge of county courts. Earlier, he also served 11 years as an assistant district attorney.

Born and raised in Babylon, Henry was part of a three-generation family steeped in politics and law. His father, Lindsay Henry, served as Suffolk district attorney from 1947 to 1953.

“He felt the greatest achievement in his career was being district attorney,” Islip District Court Judge Jennifer Henry of Brightwaters said of her father. “He loved following his father footsteps.”

Patrick Henry’s son, Lindsay Henry, of Oak Beach, an attorney and until recently, a Babylon Town board member, described his father as a “handshake kind of guy” but someone with unwavering principles.

“He would never compromise his ideals or principles for anyone,” Lindsay Henry said. “He would take the heat if he had to. But he’d never compromise his integrity.”

At age 60, Henry decided against running for a record fourth term as district attorney after the State Investigation Commission held hearings and issued a critical report, claiming his office condoned illegal wiretaps. The inquiry never led to criminal charges against anyone in Henry’s office.

“Nothing came of it,” said Ray Perini, the target of the charges who ran a losing race for Suffolk district attorney last year. “Patrick is going to go down as the best district attorney the county has ever had . He was a remarkable boss. He respected police. He respected his attorneys. He was a good boss.”

Henry later said he felt vindicated.

“I’m leaving an office that has a reputation for being one of the most effective and proficient and busiest in the state” he said.

Another former aide James O’Rourke, said of Henry: “Not the least of his accomplishments was his use of a federal racketeering statute and the recovery of millions of dollars from individuals who corrupted the Southwest Sewer District.”

Others said they took Henry’s passing as a personal loss.

“We lost a great public figure, but I lost a close personal friend,” said Peter Fox Cohalan, former county executive and Supreme Court judge, adding that Henry nurtured his relationships with staff and friends.

Professionally, Cohalan added, Henry “had the ability to cut to the chase and size people up in 30 seconds to a minute and tell if they were telling the truth. He protected me as county executive letting me know who the good and bad guys were.”

Henry also had a wry sense of humor. Celebrating his 88th birthday at the Snapper Inn in Oakdale, Cohalan recalled, a woman approached Henry and warned him to “watch what you drink. He replied, ‘I am watching it,’ ” as he finished his scotch.

Once, while hitchhiking back to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy when Henry was a student there, baseball legend Ted Williams picked him up. Henry did not recognize Williams, who introduced himself and asked his rider’s name.

“Patrick Henry,” Henry responded. Williams, thinking he was referring to the 18th Century patriot, remained silent for the rest of the drive. A decade later, Henry met Williams again, this time at spring training in Florida. He asked Williams if he remembered their previous meeting and Williams answered yes but added: “I thought you were a snot-nosed kid.” Henry later displayed Williams’ autographed photo on his wall for years.

One of three children, Henry graduated from Dwight High School in New York City in 1947 and the maritime school in 1951. Henry also served in the U.S. Navy from 1952 to 1954 as a gunnery officer on the USS Pictor during the Korean War.

Before and after the war, Henry served as an officer on U.S. Merchant Marine vessels until 1959. During that period he also attended law school at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, graduating in 1960. He first worked for a law firm specializing in maritime law, until 1966, when he joined the Suffolk district attorney office.

Henry married his wife Theresa in 1962. The couple were married for 44 years until she died in 2006.

“It was a fun household,” said another of Henry’s daughters, Margaret Henry Shaw, noting her father once bought the brood a Shetland pony. He was also close to his grandchildren, she said, helping raise money and awareness for autism after her son was diagnosed.

Other survivors include a son James Henry of East Hampton and daughter Elizabeth Henry Kennedy of Bay Shore, and 13 grandchildren.

A wake will be held Wednesday and Thursday from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. at Chapey & Sons Funeral Home in West Islip. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Peter’s by the Sea Episcopal Church in Bay Shore. Burial will follow Babylon Village Cemetery.

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