During what should have been a time of celebration and joy, the unexpected death of English professor Bryan McHenry instead left all who knew him mourning the loss of an educator, friend and husband.
A custodial worker in the Evans Complex found 52-year-old McHenry unconscious and not breathing in his office around 9 p.m. on July 31, according to an e-mail from Sam Houston State University Public Relations Director Frank Krystyniak. When police arrived at the scene, no vital signs were detected, and Justice of the Peace James Mature officially pronounced McHenry dead at 10:17 p.m. Following his death, the University Police Department conducted an “unattended death” investigation to rule out foul play.
“Anytime a death occurs when no one is present, we treat it like a homicide until we can prove otherwise,” UPD Assistant Director Kevin Morris said. “It’s just a regular investigation to determine whether the death was natural, unnatural or something else.”
An autopsy, ordered by Mature and conducted by the Dallas County Medical Examiners Office, listed the cause of death as a severe coronary artery heart attack, according to Morris.
McHenry taught two evening classes at SHSU while maintaining a full-time position in the Conroe Independent School District teaching ESL at Conroe High School.
“Bryan McHenry was a sweet person of heart, commitment, character and personality,” Barbara Solberg, an ESL teacher at CHS, said. ” His compassion and expectation for student success was second only to his deep love for his family.”
In 1999, McHenry became the first part-time professor for the English department at SHSU. English chair Bill Bridges, Ph. D., said McHenry struck him as precisely the type of teacher he wanted and someone he would trust his own kids with.
“When I interviewed him, he spoke about exactly what he wanted his students to be able to do after he had them in class. He just really struck me as a teacher,” Bridges said.
Fellow faculty in both of his positions remembered McHenry as impacting his students in a phenomenal and irreplaceable way.
“He taught our limited English students, specifically students who have been in the country less than two years,” CHS Assistant Principal Keith Dupre said. “Because of his knowledge and passion for teaching English as a second language, students enjoyed his classes and were successful in their transition into the English language.”
“Bryan was the type of professor that students would come by to see two or three semesters later,” Bridges said.
McHenry, a native of Wyoming, first came to SHSU as a student in 1973. In 1996, he earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice and later earned a Masters degree in English from the university in 1998. Following retirement from the public school system, Bridges said McHenry was looking at taking a full-time position at SHSU.
“He was just a terrific guy. He had a great sense of humor and a larger-than-life laugh,” Bridges said. “We’ll miss him; we’ll definitely miss him.”