The Way We Were: Tommye and Tom Henderson

originally published Fall 2019

Written by Abigail Walker/ photos courtesy of Tom Henderson

Given their love of learning, it only makes sense that Tom and Tommye Henderson met while working in the campus library at the University of Southern Mississippi. 

“He had seen my picture in the school newspaper and introduced himself,” says Tommye. 

“I had noticed her in the library and around campus but never had the courage or opportunity to talk to her until one day in the library,” says Tom. “I stopped to talk, saying something like, ‘You’re Tommye Corley, right?’ I suppose that corny introduction and our subsequent awkward conversation didn’t put her off because it was the beginning of our now 49-year love affair.”

Beach Boys Concert 2018 crop

It didn’t take long after they officially met for the two to start dating. “I could tell from the beginning that he was such a gentleman,” says Tommye. “He was very attentive and respectful, and he is still that way today.” 

“It was important to me to be at my best because I knew from the start she was special, and I didn’t want to mess things up,” says Tom. “She had high standards, and I tried to live up to them. Besides, her parents lived two blocks from campus and could keep an eye on us both.”

They dated for about 2 years before they married in March of 1972. Tom was working at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History in Jackson, and Tommye was teaching on the Gulf Coast at the time, so they had to schedule the wedding during Tommye’s spring break. 

Both Tom and Tommye have spent their careers investing in academics. Tommye has been involved with the public school system for a little over 37 years. She taught grades 1-12 (8th grade being the only exception), received the “Teacher of the Year” award, and served as assistant principal and principal.

In 1994, the Hendersons moved to Clinton so that Tommye could take a new position as assistant superintendent of Clinton Public Schools. She was selected superintendent in 1998 and served for ten years as the leader of Clinton schools, and was named “Mississippi Superintendent of the Year” in 2007. She later taught at Mississippi College for 9 years and started the doctorate program for educational leadership with an emphasis in curriculum and instruction. Now Tommye is focusing on her role as a superintendent search consultant for the Mississippi School Boards Association. 

Tom’s love of libraries continued after USM. He worked for the library at Mississippi State University, the patent and state documents library at the Mississippi Library Commission, and served as assistant director and then director of the Millsaps College Library. He is now retired and enjoys volunteering at the Clinton Visitor Center. His love of research and history keeps him busy collecting and writing about Rankin County’s Gold Coast. 

“I’ve always liked learning things and organizing information which is why I became a librarian,” says Tom. “Personally, I’ve always been a collector of something: stamps, coins, books, but most recently, postcards and paper collectibles about the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I like the quest of finding objects and learning about their history, and I enjoy family history research, too.”

In fact, research is an area that Tom and Tommye both share a passion for, and they enjoy visiting antique stores together. But while Tom likes historical documentaries, Tommye prefers to watch the latest NFL game.

“I think our entire marriage has been built on trust and mutual respect,” says Tom. “We give each other space and time, as well as love and support.”

“You must respect each other, even if you do things differently,” adds Tommye. “You have to be able to support each other, regardless of the circumstances.”

They both understand the importance of “give-and-take” in marriage. Tommye gave up a job and moved to a new state so Tom could attend graduate school. And when Tommye went back to school to get her doctorate, Tom helped support her by taking care of their 2 daughters, Corley and Hollye. As a librarian, Tom was also able to help supply research material for her thesis. 

“We do it more like a partnership,” says Tommye. “I value his intelligence. And he is so accepting and supportive. He never felt like I shouldn’t try for something.” 

“Tommye is an amazing woman,” adds Tom. “She is caring and loving, as well as being a true professional and a hard worker. She is a wonderful wife and life partner and a wonderful mother to our two girls. I value her love, her caring, and sharing things we both like.”

Both Tom and Tommye credit their Christian values and the fact that they go to church together as a large part of their marital success. 

“Sometimes when couples have been together many years they begin to take each other for granted and let the relationship slide,” says Tom. “I don’t think we’ve done that, but I try to be mindful of her and her needs at all times, as she is of me. It’s been a great trip and I would do it all over again.”

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A freelance writer from the Deep South with a love of reading, writing, dramatic storytelling, indie music, and her corgi pup.

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