My uncle, Henry Ford, our family griot. (1945-2012)
On October 1st, just days before his birthday, my uncle Henry Ford passed away. He was 66.
My uncle struggled for some time with diabetes, but his passing still came as a shock to me. I’d just spoken to him two weeks ago and he sounded well.
Henry was a very good uncle. He took me to the New Orleans zoo, one of his favorite places, and always made sure I had a po’ boy or some gumbo whenever I was in town. He also indulged all of my questions about our family and drove with me on genealogy jaunts to Mississippi. Along with his stories about our ancestors, what I most treasure about my uncle is that he and my father visited each other even though they lived thousands of miles apart, so I got to have a good relationship with my cousins. While on the phone with my cousin, Shawnique the other night to express my condolences, we were able to laugh about the summer we spent in her room listening to Prince and thinking we were so grown up because our parents let us walk alone to the mall not far from her house. During a different summer when she visited us, she joined me on my camp’s field trip to the Philadelphia Zoo.
Henry tried to help me fill in t he blanks of our past about the Colonel, Tempe and Josephine. Now, he’s back with them all, keyed in to all of the answers, and I hope at peace.
My uncle, Henry Ford and me in the late 1970s. He was undoubtedly telling me a good story.
When I was finally ready to start digging into my paternal family’s history about 15 years ago, I went to our family griot, my uncle, Henry Ford. Born and raised in New Orleans when his family moved there from Ocean Springs, Mississippi in the early 40s, Uncle Henry filled in some details on my great, great-grandfather, Col. W.R. Stuart and my great, great-grandmother, Tempy Burton. He showed me around his Nola stomping grounds from the best spot for a po’ boy sandwich to his most beloved attraction, the Audubon Zoo. Then we drove through the deep Mississippi pines until we reached the other side of the gulf in Ocean Springs. There, he introduced me to family friends from my grandparents’ time living there and even showed me the spot where my great-grandfather, the Reverend James Ford had preached.
Henry’s enthusiasm for our history helped fan the flames of my budding ancestry ardor. Now, I hope to bring that genealogy love full circle and give him some modicum of the joy he showed me for our shared history.
This weekend, my dear Uncle Henry’s foot was amputated and I’m sure his spirits could use a boost.
Back in December, his house in the 9th ward of New Orleans burned down and he suffered injuries in the fire further complicated by his diabetes. The house had survived Katrina and a number of previous storms during the 60 plus years my uncle, dad and the rest of their family lived there. When my grandmother, Lillie Mae Ford died last August, she left the house to Henry. It was his last connection to her.
I’d guess Uncle Henry’s never been far from New Orleans for very long nor from his mother. Now in the space of a few short months, he’s lost both mother and home. There’s no replacing either, but at least we still have our family stories. I hope whatever new pieces of our family history we find will bring him some joy and comfort.