In a post-Columbine America, Robert “Buddy” Hendry took the lead in improving the safety of Columbia County pupils.
Safety became an immediate focus for school systems nationwide after the deadly shootings in April 1999 at the Colorado high school.
As director of the school system’s department of public safety, Hendry helped write and revise regulations for student safety and arm school safety officers.
Had anyone other than Hendry made the request to the school board to arm officers, Superintendent Charles Nagle said, the board likely would have opposed it.
“More than anything, it was the trust the board of education felt with Buddy’s leadership that allowed deputies to be armed,” Nagle said. “They knew Buddy wasn’t trying to protect he and his officers against students, but to protect students from outside threats.”
Hendry’s dedication to the welfare of students and his jovial demeanor will be greatly missed, Nagle said.
Hendry died Saturday after a prolonged battle with lung cancer. He was 68.
“We just all love Buddy and we’re going to miss him,” Nagle said Monday. “There’s a true void here right now.”
Though school officials allowed Hendry intermittent medical leave because of his chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Nagle said he rarely missed work.
“He would take a day off for his treatment, but he was right back in here the next day,” Nagle said. “He did not let it interfere with performing his duties and it wasn’t perfunctory. He was on the job.”
Hendry started work for the school system 18 years ago after serving 28 years with the Florida Highway Patrol. His new career began at Harlem High School, where his wife, Phyllis, once served as the school secretary.
Nagle said Hendry quickly rose through the ranks to become the school system’s equivalent of a police chief in 2000.
News of Hendry’s death quickly created a somber mood among all the schools, Nagle said.
“Everyone is just heartbroken,” he said. “Buddy just touched so many lives.”
Among those feeling Hendry’s loss Monday was longtime friend and next-door neighbor Mike Carraway, the husband of school system Deputy Superintendent Sandra Carraway.
“Outside of family, Buddy is the closest person to me who ever died,” Carraway said. “It’s been unsettling.”
Still, Carraway had plenty of good memories with Hendry to recall, including mass buzz haircuts Carraway organized in August for several school officials as a show of solidarity for Hendry before he started treatments.
At the time, Hendry said he dreaded the thought of cutting off his hair, but ended the day laughing with friends and family.
“He showed everybody how to live through a death sentence,” Carraway said. “The man held his head high and with great faith. ... He knew that whatever happened he would be all right.”
The popularity Hendry enjoyed, Carraway said, stemmed from his ability to make anyone feel special regardless of his or her station in life.
Often, Carraway said, he received phone calls from Hendry asking them to pitch in to help someone in need. Carraway said he was among a small group Hendry called upon in his efforts to take care of others.
“Buddy is going to be missed at a level most people can’t even fathom,” Carraway said. “I have lost the greatest friend.”
Hendry is survived by his wife, parents, four children, nine grandchildren and two sisters.
Funeral services for Hendry were held Tuesday, with school system public safety officers serving as pallbearers.