Leslie Henderson: Oh, the places she’ll go

Beth KinnaneOur Town Neighbors

Leslie Henderson is ready for fairer winds and following seas. The COVID-19 pandemic has waylaid several trips abroad the seasoned traveler had planned, and, frankly, she said, “it stinks.”

“It’s awful, the isolation, being alone,” Henderson said. “But my kids have been very demanding of me that I stay safe.” But, she said, she completely understands the necessity of being pretty much on lockdown since she returned from a trip to Morocco on March 5 of last year.

Henderson’s landed on every continent except Antarctica and visited at least 60 other countries. Covid cancelled a mother/daughter trip to Portugal as well as a transatlantic cruise to Amsterdam.

Bonnie Kate

As she was being interviewed, she was walking her dog, Bonnie Kate, whom she calls her “life saver,” near her south Knox County home. Henderson picked up the maltese/yorkie mix about four months after her husband Barry, a former editor at The Knoxville Journal and MetroPulse, passed away in 2019.

“I am so glad I did. I really don’t know what I would have done without her. She’s just adorable,” she said. “I was adjusting to life as a widow, finally getting over the worst of the grieving, needing to build a new life when Covid happened. Having her helps a lot.”

A Chicago native, Henderson, 74, has called Knoxville home for 40 years. Her impressive résumé shows her time as a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution before a decade spent at The Knoxville Journal until it closed. She and Barry spent a year working for the English language China Daily that was followed, eventually, by two years in Prague where she worked in public relations. Upon returning to the states, she spent six years as director of development for the city of Knoxville before taking on the role of president and CEO of the Roane Alliance.

Though she retired in 2014, she started her own consulting business, Top Shelf Services. While it has been mostly idle the past few years, she can foresee possibly taking on a few clients when the world opens back up again. In the meantime, she’s keeping herself busy volunteering with CASA of East Tennessee helping children from neglectful or abusive homes, the SMiles program in Blount County transporting seniors who can no longer drive, and the recently launched Kingston Workers Project helping those impacted by the Kingston coal ash spill get insurance and medical treatment.

“All of this is very fulfilling, it’s very much giving me a purpose again,” Henderson said. “With CASA there is a great need for child advocates, and some of that has been exacerbated by Covid. The SMiles program was on hold for a while, but that’s now back up with strict protocols. I had to get a negative test, we wear masks and gloves. Obviously, the last thing I’d want to do is unknowingly pass that on to someone.”

Henderson is ready to get her Covid vaccine as soon as possible, and for everyone to take the pandemic seriously so “we can get past it sooner rather than later. I’ve only got so many years left that I’ll be able to travel. I hate wasting time.”

To find out more about CASA of East Tennessee go here, about SMiles go here, and about Kingston Workers Project go here.

Beth Kinnane is community editor for KnoxTNToday.com.

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