Henry Hager, who left a career in advertising to become one of the most loved members of the Missouri School of Journalism faculty, died Thursday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 85.
A self-described hillbilly, Henry was born in Ashland, Ky., and raised in Huntington, W.Va. The generosity of a relative enabled him to attend prep school in Rhode Island. The GI Bill allowed him to enroll at Yale, from which he graduated in 1951.
Before Yale came the U.S. Army Air Corps, which trained him as an aerial gunner but sent him to Japan as a reporter for "Pacific Stars and Stripes." Years later, he told friends how he went AWOL to visit Hiroshima, which after the bombing was off-limits to American soldiers. He laughed about being “scooped” by John Hersey and published his own account in The Missouri Review in 1991.
Prof. Daryl Moen described his friend and colleague Henry as “a Renaissance man. He could discuss history, advertising and sports with equal vigor. He wore his fading Yale hat with pride. Not bad for a poor kid from West Virginia, he would say.”
Dean Mills, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, recalls Henry as “a delightful colleague. He cared deeply about the School and was not afraid to say so when he thought something or somebody was screwing it up.”
Although he worked briefly as a reporter for his hometown newspaper, his professional career and his teaching centered on advertising. He was based in Detroit for national agencies Campbell Ewald, Batten, Barton, Durstine and Osborn, and Young and Rubicam.
He was lead writer and creative supervisor of the ad campaigns that helped sell cars for all three major domestic manufacturers. His work for Chevrolet in stock car racing was the basis for his novel, “Fireball,” published in 1963.
Dean James Atwater, also a Yale graduate, lured Henry to Columbia in 1985. He taught the basic and advanced ad writing courses. He also taught in the Honors College and served on the college’s board of directors, as well as on the Campus Writing Board, the Missouri Review advisory board and the Student Publications Committee.
He continued to write until the disease stole his facility with words. Colleague Steve Weinberg remembers having read five novels in manuscript form. Despite Weinberg’s encouragement, he didn’t seek to publish them. Creating them was the point.
Beyond the campus, Henry and Laura, his wife, were active members of Calvary Episcopal Church and campaigners for Democratic candidates. Asked how long they’ve been married, Laura responded “53 or 54 years.”
Henry is survived by wife Laura, son John, daughter-in-law Tracy, their son, Jason, daughter Jenny, son-in-law John Hindman, their son Patrick, sister Adele Saunders, niece Sabrina Saunders, her husband, Bruce Featherstone and their son, Rex.
Memorial donations to the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri would be welcome.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the Calvary Episcopal Church, 123 S. Ninth St.