Jim Henry was in his 90s when he learned to read. Just last year, at 98, the retired his first book, In a Fisherman’s Language.
On Wednesday, Henry went back to school, visiting students at , talking to them about reading, writing and, most important, never giving up.
Moments before he entered Carol Ambrosch’s third-grade class, Henry said he was both nervous and excited. But almost as soon as he began speaking to the students, Henry was overcome with emotion.
Many years ago, he told them, had been a third-grader just like they are when his father forced him to quit school and go to work.
What followed was a life of hard work—which he does not regret—and illiteracy, which he deeply regretted, and which remained a deep source of shame.
But in his 90s, urged on by his grandchildren, Henry learned to read and write using primary readers, a pencil and paper, and with the help of retired English teacher Mark Hogan, who tutors with Literacy Volunteers of Eastern Connecticut.
And, at 98, he wrote a book, , that has become something of a publishing sensation.
Now he is spreading the message to every child who will listen: “If I can do it, so can you.”
“I think this is his real legacy, his crusade for literacy,” said Marlisa McLaughlin’s granddaughter, who accompanied Henry to the school.
Henry said he worked hard all of his life, mostly as a lobsterman, but also working in a sneaker factory, doing carpentry and plumbing work, making cement blocks, “anything I could do to make money,” he said.
His book, a collection of short tales from his life, describes some of the jobs and the people he knew and worked with through the years. The book quickly sold out and is now in a second printing.
“Don’t do what I done,” Henry admonished his young audience. “You’re gonna be better than that.”
As a lobsterman, he earned a good living, but it was dangerous work, especially in stormy weather. “You kids don’t have to do that,” he said. “All you have to do is read about it.”
He told the children that when he learned to read he felt like “the richest man in the world.”
Ambrosch had been reading excerpts from Henry’s stories in class, and the students sent him letters before Christmas, which precipitated the visit.
“He was very touched by their interest and good wishes, and decided he wanted to come and visit the class,” said Ambrosch.
After his presentation, the class had a lot of questions for the 98-year-old author.
One of the children asked Henry if he plans to write another book. He said it was unlikely.
“I’m so tired. I’ve been working all my life,” he said. “But you can do it. You can carry that ball for me.”