Note: Will Averill, of Lawrence, allowed the Times to publish this obituary he wrote for Melinda Henderson.
Melinda Lou Henderson, 68, longtime Lawrence advocate, died peacefully on Tuesday.
Melinda was born in Long Beach, California, on March 31, 1953. She spent her childhood in Pratt and Chanute, Kansas, and St. Joseph, Missouri. Melinda first came to Lawrence while attending the University of Kansas, where she graduated in 1978.
She always stood up for her neighborhood and community, a passion that came in part from her mother. After KU, Melinda struck out for California and traveled across the country, setting up medical records departments for hospitals. Melinda was a hippie at heart and spoke fondly of her time in California and traveling, sometimes with her dog Ranger and her cat, Jack Daniels. During these travels, Melinda would visit her sister Kay and their family. She would continue to be close to her nieces and nephews throughout their lives.
Melinda was a steward of Lawrence. She was not the kind of person who has a building, park or statue named after her, but a champion and passionate advocate for our community nonetheless, loving both what it is and what it could become.
Melinda saw something special in our community and dedicated her life and often her welfare to speaking out to make it better. To quote a friend, “She did not suffer fools gladly,” and it could be, at times, challenging to be her friend, especially if you found yourself on the other side of an issue. However, Melinda always appreciated others who had the same passion. Even those she disagreed with most still treated her with respect (perhaps borne out of a healthy dose of fear).
Melinda met partner Tom through a Compuserve forum in the early ’90s; they were both moderators. They found they both shared a passion for arguing. They met and traveled together up the California coast before deciding to move back to Lawrence.
Once back in Lawrence, Melinda worked at several different jobs and became passionately involved in community affairs. She first became involved in local issues fighting an American Eagle distribution center. After that, Melinda focused on preserving local land, fighting increased taxation issues, and later focusing on affordable housing and community issues.
Melinda was a co-founder of the Progressive Lawrence Campaign, active in the Brook Creek Neighborhood Association, a supporter of Justice Matters, and was a former president of the League of Women Voters – Lawrence/Douglas County.
Never afraid to speak truth to power, her work profoundly touched the lives of those around her. She pushed people’s awareness of local issues and was always game for a discussion of local politics. No matter what the issue, Melinda had a strong opinion on it. She would take the time to speak with anyone about Lawrence and share her wealth of knowledge, experience, and thoughts.
Her partner Tom summed it up beautifully.
“Melinda was Melinda. What you saw was what you got.”
Melinda is survived by her partner Tom Generaux, sister Kay Sinnott and her husband Tom, brother David Henderson, nephew Scott, and nieces Angie, Amy, and Rebecca.
Melinda wished to have a green burial, and friends and loved ones will gather at 2 p.m. Thursday, May 13 at Oak Hill Cemetery in East Lawrence. The area designated for green burial is in the northern part of the cemetery.
Melinda and Tom believed in the mission of local nonprofit Just Food and their commitment to ending food insecurity. If you want to leave a donation in honor of Melinda with Just Food, Tom says that would be much appreciated.
Lawrence Mayor Brad Finkeldei acknowledged Melinda’s frequent appearances at Lawrence City Commission meetings on Tuesday.