By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
PONTOTOC – First of all, Patricia Henry wants everyone to know she is not retiring.
But she is celebrating. Prompted by friends, family and former students, as well as those she currently teaches, Henry will mark her 60th year of teaching in the way she loves best – through music.
Two days of musical performances of old favorites by her students and former students of all ages will be followed by a reception in her honor at First Baptist Church on Saturday afternoon.
For Henry, the highlight of the occasion will not come in the sincere adulation heaped upon her as much as in the sheer joy of reuniting with her former students, many of them now themselves accomplished musicians.
She calls them her children. “I’ve got children all over the place,” she often says, referring to her ever-expanding family of students, which now covers three generations. She’s now teaching the grandchildren of her first students.
In preparation for the celebration, she has gone through decades of accumulated mementos, occasionally stopping to wipe away tears, such as when she pulled out the Bible in which she had written: “Bought with first music student money – Summer of 1951.”
She was 12 years old, barely older than her students, but she had been taking lessons since third grade and had the natural abilities of a good teacher.
Those abilities, as well as her love of music, came from her father, George Young. He was Pontotoc County’s chancery clerk during the 1930s and also was well-known and well-loved for his music at churches throughout the county. Not only did he sing – solo and with a quartet – at revivals and gospel singings, but he also conducted “music schools,” teaching “sight” reading to entire church congregations as well.
Henry was just a teenager when she, too, began playing in church and accompanying her father and his quartet at their performances, sparking a lifelong love for the unique Southern gospel music sound.
That her father was a strong influence and inspiration on her career and life path is obvious to anyone who knows her.
However, Henry is quick to credit her mother, Pearl, with inspiring her as well. One thing she remembers her mother saying to her many times is, “Be careful what you say and do, you never know when a child may be watching you and trying to pattern their life after you.”
Henry took her responsibility as a role model as seriously as she took her career as a musician and music teacher. Even as a teenager and college student, her own students came first.
“If I had a date, it was after I got through with lessons on Saturday,” she remembers with a smile.
Her devotion paid off with a steady stream of students – and a perpetual waiting list – spanning six decades.
When, after years of teaching, musical instruments, books and memorabilia threatened to take over the entire house where she now lives with husband, Wallace Henry, they moved everything into the small house they owned next door and made it a “music house.”
Today, Henry approaches each new student with the same enthusiasm to impart her knowledge and love of music as she had in the beginning.
Her life as a piano teacher reflects her personal philosophy, which she says is summed up in one of her favorite hymns:
“If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or a song,
If I can spread love’s message that the Master taught,
Then my living shall not be in vain.”
Henry plans to teach as long as she is physically able, and hopefully for the sake of Pontotoc’s piano-players of the future, that will be a long time.