For the past six and a half years, a security officer has roamed the campuses of UMBC, making a lasting impact with each conversation had, interaction completed and favor fulfilled with staff and students. The man, Michael Henson, died at age 55 on April 15 after collapsing in his home.
Henson was a non-sworn security officer, meaning he didn’t carry a gun or have arrest powers. Attached to his person, however, was a radio which gave him a direct line of communication to the police station. He habitually worked the day shift, walking around campus acting as a visible presence for the police department and an active informant should he see any suspicious activity. Henson was assigned a variety of additional responsibilities, such as delivering a variety of documents around campus.
But his job meant far more than what the on-paper responsibilities would have any person believe.
UMBC Chief of Police Mark Sparks explained, “Of anybody here at this agency, he was probably the most visible face of the police department because a myriad of people saw him as he made his rounds throughout the campus. He became friends with a lot of folks on campus and he was particularly good because he was willing to do things that weren’t really part of his job description.”
“And the things that he did – he did a lot of different kinds of little favors for other departments on campus – and so they really got to like him. It presented us as a police department in a great light,” Sparks added.
Wanda Soares Nottingham, administrative assistant in the department of Africana Studies, was a friend of Henson’s and a recipient of one of his many favors. The pair had known each other since Henson arrived on campus, but according to Nottingham they became friends two years back. The relationship between the two began with Henson sporadically stopping by Nottingham’s office to chat and say hello, but she began to see him regularly when he started picking up her department’s checks.
“I needed someone to assist me with getting the checks for the department and he volunteered with no hesitation,” Nottingham said.
She added, “Even though he wore a lot of hats, he was willing to support anyone. He would do anything for anybody to make their day better here at UMBC … It didn’t matter who you were. Mike was a simple kind of guy.”
On April 21, UMBC Community News released a post on MyUMBC informing the public of Henson’s death. It stated, “Since word of his passing, many members of the campus community have written the police department to express their condolences. This outpouring of support is a strong reminder of the lives he has touched in the most positive ways during his time at UMBC.”
The outpouring of support, though, had hardly begun. The post rapidly began to attract attention, receiving over 165 paws (favorites) and 38 comments with people sharing experiences and expressing condolences.
A prevailing theme in the comment section was references to Henson’s self-dubbed “Friday-eve.” Every Thursday, he would walk around campus and excite individuals by informing them of this weekly holiday. Michelle Barrow, marketing staff member in the Division of Professional studies, left one such comment on the post:
“The news of Michael’s passing just breaks my heart. He made it a point to drop by my office weekly and deliver his signature line, ‘Do you know what today is? It’s Friday-eve!’ What a kind and genuine soul. He will truly be missed.”
Members from the Visual Arts department, Human Resources department and Computer Science and Electrical Engineering department also left comments. One of the women, Rochelle Sanders from Human Resources, said that Henson would always bring new security guard officers around to introduce them to everyone in her department.
Henson attended Edmondson High School in Baltimore City and upon graduating in 1980 began working for the United States Air Force as a medical lab specialist. After four years of service, he began working for the state with the Maryland Department of Transportation before coming to UMBC in 2010.
Henson was hired just before Mark Sparks was named chief of police.
“He is a guy who took a pretty simple job that didn’t have very many moving parts to it and turned it into his own little gig,” Sparks said.
“It’s hard to train someone to be a good, decent person that folks like. And he had that skill when he got to us.”