By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Yes We Can

Last Monday, Corsicana Fire Chief Paul Henley announced his resignation, effective Oct. 15. As this particular subject is part of my weekly personal column, I won’t be discussing any elements that led to that decision, or the greater scale of the effects on the community. I will, however, be talking about the impact he had on me as part of this town. And as a person.

I met Chief Henley back in 2019 shortly after I began with the Daily Sun. I initially found him professional, knowledgeable, and very personable. I’d see him during City Council meetings, during public events, and sometimes I’d run into him and his wife during lunch. He was always pleasant, always with a smile on his face, and always eager to help. I could depend on him for a quick quote and/or a quick fact for any related article I was writing.

In 2020, a lot of things changed for the world. The pandemic shifted the larger perception of the day to day, and I found myself needing to talk with Henley more about current updates in our shifting environment. If I wasn’t going to Dr. Rogers for what the upcoming big “next” was, Henley became my other go-to.

For those early days of the pandemic, life changed for me personally yet again, as I was furloughed from my job. Outside of the added growing uncertainty of the future, I found I wasn’t quite done with my writing role, and I started over with a new venture. To credit (and relief), my professional contacts continued to support me on my new business journey, and Henley was one of those early adopters.

During the course of pandemic, my role shifted more with the chief. He changed from just a source of reliable and current information. Our relationship became more personal. He regularly maintained a smile with his greetings, and he was only a quick message away when I needed clarification for reporting. As the months went by, and things kept uncertain, he was a reassuring, honest presence in dealing with community crisis. He kept my perspective consistent in sharing what was important.

Henley and I talked often about the nature of the pandemic, moreso when the vaccination HUB was established this past January. As I’ve said before, Henley by nature is a positive person, but I could also feel the weight in his words. His biggest concern, always, was helping people and keeping as many as he could safe during the pandemic. He did so with a sensible and level head. It struck me, even on a personal level when I knew he was tired from long days, he never complained. And he never stopped doing. Thanks to him and the team he built, thousands of people were vaccinated.

As a side note, when it came time for my own second vaccination, he pointed at the lady swabbing my arm and mimed I needed a much bigger needle for my shoulder. I narrowed my eyes at him in mock warning, to which he laughed even moreso, pleased with his recent instigations.

Don’t think for a second I’ve forgotten that, Henley.

Henley again stepped up alongside all of our first responders during February’s blizzard. In April, he received the “Fire Chief of the Year” award. We talked about how his three-plus years time as Corsicana’s Chief experienced two “once in a lifetime” events. Henley also shared information on the upcoming Fire Station One, then scheduled to open in May. He and I often talked about numerous community matters: Health, weather, local history…. His interest in the community was invested.

He also added an extra layer of communication through video PSAs he filmed and distributed through social channels. I remarked to him one day how our town had two public service chiefs showcasing filmmaking skills.

Before the new station opened, Helney allowed me free reign to roam and film the facility, so I could get shots of the station in a pristine, unused state. When the station opened, I remember him being so proud of the work and contributors that brought him to that moment.

When the press release dropped on Monday, I felt the same emotional range I had when I shared the news of Dr. Rogers last January. Professionally, I reported the information. Personally, when the work was done, I grieved.

As a reporter, I try to keep a level of professionalism in my subject matter. When you write about the events of a small town, it’s inevitable you become close to some of the people you defer to on a regular basis. Of course, there’s a feeling of loss that comes with change. But as I’ve also been reminded so well in this past year and a half: Life is short, family is important, and we need to find and hold on to what makes us happy.

Chief Henley is moving on. It’s a sad thing, and it’s okay for the residents here to feel as such. It’s okay to miss him. But the work he’s provided to our community will last for years, and he’ll still be around as a neighbor. Chief Henley, by the very definition, is a helper, and I think ultimately… his work was perhaps always meant to be larger than just one place.

From a professional standpoint, I’ve been grateful for his ongoing and continued community and business support. From a personal standpoint, there’s so many things I could say, but I’ll keep it simple in regards to my friend:

Thanks, Paul.

Corsicana Fire Chief Paul Henley. – Photo by Guy Chapman

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