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Remembering Steve Henderson / December 15, 2011
Quite often we read about famous, historical people upon their deaths, with all the details about their amazing lives spread out in newspapers, magazines and television screens. The achievements and legacies of famous politicians, inventors, actors and even sports stars are handed to us in a jazzy array of modern mass media. But perhaps, we as a society and as a nation need to start paying more attention to the everyday greats among us as they pass on. And no better example of this would be the great life of Steve Henderson. The guy who ran the tire store in Halifax, Va.

The vast majority of time I spent with Steve was sitting in the showroom, silently marveling at the dizzying, yet orchestrated operation of Halifax Tire. Steve seemed always to have the phone braced against an ear, the other ear listening to a customer at his desk, one hand writing up an order and the other searching for a particular tire availability. I would always show up a little early for when the tire work on my truck was scheduled to be finished, just to gaze at the magical process of a true small American business run from what looked like a seat-of-the-pants style, but actually was as fine-tuned as any Sprint Cup pit crew.

Despite all of the busy, hectic work being done, I never — not once – saw Steve frown. He was always cheerful and in good spirits, always anxious to hear anything about the Outer Banks, often with a funny joke or amusing tale. He loved life, loved his family and loved people. His shop was down-to-earth and homey and reflected his personal style. I always felt at home, sitting there watching customers come and go, the sounds of hydraulic drills in the background and the smell of machinery and tires. Hometown America at its finest.

Yes, Steve owned a tire store in a small town in a rural county of Virginia, going against the grain of the massive box tire stores you see in more urban areas. But he, his staff and his store played an important part in my life as they have in so many others. After all, our vehicles are the fulcrum of our lives and without tires, how would we be able to conduct all the countless dizzying trips and travels that those tires allow? Though his product and service may seem so mundane when compared to the so-called importance of internationally famous actors or sports figures, tires give us so much more. And Steve was always there, cheerfully enjoying his customers and, at the same time, making sure we would return to the road on safe and sound tires.

In my semi-vagabond days, which constitute a healthy percentage of my life, his tires and brakes kept me going through the best and worst of times. It was Halifax Tire who replaced all my rusted rotors after my old Honda Civic drove through foot-deep salt water across Highway 12 from Hatteras to Salvo after a hurricane I covered during my journalism career. During one of my down-and-out broke stages, it was Steve who saw steel belts appearing through all four of my worn tires when I could only barely afford to buy two. He literally demanded that I purchase all four tires just for safety’s sake, assuring me that I could pay for them when I could. He always had that same caring, happy face when I was broke and owed him money just as he did last month when I’m not so broke and actually had money on account. Yes, Steve Henderson was a businessman. But he was also a friend and neighbor to all. Safety came first and then paying up the account came second. Try that at one of those huge box stores.

Steve always loved hearing about the Outer Banks and whenever I came into his shop the years I worked down there, he would ask about how my surfing was working out, how many sharks did I see on my last scuba dive, and how was the last hurricane I rode out. No doubt, it was a temporary ticket for him to escape the confines and clutches of his super-busy desk and phone lines.

One year, I came into the shop for tires and he was on crutches. “Steve! What the heck happened? Did you go sky-diving or surfing or something?” I asked. With a huge grin that everybody in town knows, he laughed and said, “Nope, you’re not going to believe it, Mr. Scuba Diver, but I broke this on a mini-bike. It just fell over slowly and here I am! Story of my life!” But with a painful injury and hobbled by crutches, his smile never left his face.

A happy family man tied down to a home and business, yet still having part of his mind thinking of distant adventures. He enjoyed hearing all of my tales, but I could always see that his real love was his family, his home, his town and his store.

How fitting it is that Steve wanted a memorial not just at a church or funeral chapel, but instead at a country club with a bar stocked with margaritas for all his family and friends. While I know that he never would have traded the life he had here for a life in “the islands,” I also know he had the Margaritaville Spirit inherent in his soul with the change of every tire, the installation of every brake pad.

“Hey, dude! I’ll be up there on that beach with you someday, and I’m sure by then you’ll be a much better surfer than me. With or without a broken leg! So enjoy that heavenly beach for me until I get there!”

Yes, Steve Henderson is leaving us this week. But he doesn’t want us to see him off with tears and sadness. He wants to see us off with his famous smile, his hearty laugh, and his true love of life.

Bruce Wilkins teaches English and history to at-risk students for Halifax County Public Schools and is also a GED tutor; this first appeared on his website, .

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