Even with so much to think and write about globally and nationally these past months, we are instantly absorbed by our feelings about what happens right here at home — especially when we lose an exemplary member of our community.
All the appropriate and loving words have been said about Judge Robert Hensley. Still, within the hearts of many, those personal thoughts and private impressions gained over a lifetime will remain in warm recognition of a life well-lived, a life that touched so many. We share in the privilege of either knowing or knowing about honest-to-God goodness, mercy and humility.
“What’s it like to sit on the bench?” the student asks. For some, it’s like sitting there waiting to play your very best game. If you’re a good player, you prepare yourself, know all the rules and apply them with skillful care. It was that kind of virtuous mission that earned Robert Hensley our community’s high esteem and admiration.
He was born into what is presently described as “The Greatest Generation,” an era that spanned World War II, the Great Depression and a giant technological revolution. His strength of character, knowledge, experience and compassion were honed during the toughest of times. He was a heroic soldier, a loving husband, a distinguished member of the Bar and the judicial, a loving husband, parent, teacher, public servant, neighbor and friend.
Robert Hensley appeared comfortable with himself and the life work he had chosen.
I am reminded of an exchange between the king and “The Little Prince” in Antoine de St. Exupery’s elegant story. When the prince is reluctant to become Minister of Justice, the king admonishes him: “It is much more difficult to judge oneself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself rightly, then you are indeed a man of true wisdom.”
Oftentimes in life we pat ourselves on the back and own up to “a wise decision.” For a jurist, wise decisions are a primary expectation. Decision-making is an art, a science, an attribute. I think this judge knew all those things and more. He, like all great jurists, never forgot the burden he shared with all humanity.
Each act lays its imprint on the core of our society. Maybe that’s why religion elevates wisdom to the status of a gift, a gift of the holy spirit.
Each time we met, he smiled as though it was the singularly most important event at that moment. That was his way with everyone. On one occasion we reminisced about the Hensley Public Safety Complex named after him in the 1980s. We lamented the fact that later we had to build a larger jail at the port. He chuckled about my namesake, Pat Glass Boulevard, the path for all who come and go there. He shared the humor but quickly moved on to hopeful ways we could reduce our jail populations.
Bob Hensley’s life is a tribute to marriage, family, the legal profession and ethical values. Thank him and thank God.
Pat Glass, retired county commissioner, writes biweekly for the Bradenton Herald.