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Tributes paid to ‘father’ of Strabane Special Olympics

A piper plays a lament at the funeral service for Francis Henderson.

A piper plays a lament at the funeral service for Francis Henderson.

SPECIAL Olympics veteran Francis ‘Francie’ Henderson is to be remembered with a new club named in his memory.
Mr Henderson passed away recently at Foyle Hospice following a short battle with cancer. He was 65.
 
Along with Bill McIntyre, he helped set up Strabane Special Olympics Club in 2004 and worked tirelessly for athletes and their families right up until his death.
 
Paying tribute to his friend and brother-in-law, Mr McIntyre revealed how one of Mr Henderson’s dying wishes was that the local Special Olympics Club continue.
 
Bill McIntyre also revealed that a new kayaking club soon to be established in the town is to be named in Francie’s honour.
“Francis and myself set up the club in 2004 but he was involved with Special Olympics Ireland before that,” said Mr McIntyre.
 
The late Francis Henderson,.

The late Francis Henderson,.

“He did everything, he was our bus driver, he was a coach and he was so well loved by everyone. He was like a father and a grandfather and that is actually what some of the athletes called him.”
 
As volunteer bus driver with Strabane Special Olympics Club, Francie regularly transported athletes the length and breadth of Ireland. He was also instrumental in the success of Nuala Browne, the Strabane woman who clinched double silver at the Special Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 2015.
 
Volunteers and members of the local Special Olympics Club formed a guard of honour at St Mary’s Church, Melmount, ahead of Requiem Mass.
 
Bill McIntyre said, “He was loved throughout the whole Special Olympics movement and I have been getting messages from right across Ireland.
 
“He was my right hand man, both personally as well as in the club. He was my brother-in-law and we came right through school together.
 
“When Francis was diagnosed, he made me promise to keep the club going. We are setting up a new kayak club in the town and that is going to be named after him. We were also planning a dinner dance in the Fir Trees for October 21 which would have been his birthday but that will now be the Francis Henderson dinner dance.”
 
At Melmount Church Parish Priest Fr Michael Doherty spoke of Francie Henderson’s dedication to both the  Special Olympics Club and to the church.
 
“We cannot accuse Francis Henderson of neglecting God or neighbour,” Fr Doherty told mourners.
 
“The son of George and Bridie of Meenashesk Place, John Francis Henderson was born on October 21, 1951 and grew up in Strabane. He spent his working life as a baker, starting in Russells and later working in Omagh and Cookstown.
 
“This church was an important place for him. He was baptised and confirmed here. He attended Sunday Mass here. When it came to the great day of his marriage on April 9, 1996, the scene changed to Sacred Heart Church, Derry Road, as it was easier for Marie to walk up the aisle in that church.
 
“He worked for the parish as a promoter for the draw and even in his last illness he was concerned that his regular clients would be entered in this year’s draw.
 
“But his greatest living out of that Gospel passage today was in his association with the athletes and sportsmen and women of Special Olympics Ireland, in training, supporting, encouraging, organising and fund-raising. It was a very genuine labour of love for him for many years and helped him to in some way fill a gap caused by the death of Marie in July 2009
 
“Francis Henderson would not believe that he did anything outstanding in life and he would have felt that he was doing his duty, but those who knew him would probably tell a different story,” Fr Doherty added.
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The Strabane Chronicle is published by North West of Ireland Printing & Publishing Company Limited, trading as North-West News Group.
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