Tell Jim Henry it’s too late to keep learning and he’ll let you in on a true story.
“It’s a big, big, big, big lie,” Henry says. “It’s never too late to learn.”
Henry’s story begins when his father pulled him out of third grade so he could help support his family. He never learned to read, hiding his illiteracy from others for the better part of a century.
Then in his mid-90s, after retiring as a lobsterman, he set out to continue his education. He took reading lessons and practiced writing. Not only is he reading and writing now, but he published a book in November at age 98 called In a Fisherman’s Language.
When Jim Henry told Marlisa McLaughlin he wanted to learn to read, she contacted Literacy Volunteers of Eastern Connecticut.
Enter Mark Hogan, a retired English teacher. “He’s the oldest person I’ve ever worked with, but I feel truly honored to have been able to spend time with him. He’s of my father’s generation, and that meant a lot to me.”
“I’m so happy, I catch myself crying,” he says. “It’s the difference between night and day for me. It’s like I’m born again.”
His reading teacher, Mark Hogan of Literacy Volunteers of Eastern Connecticut, also helped edit the book. “I think he’s got another book in him,” he says. “He’s got so much to offer people.”
Henry had a book signing at his assisted-living facility in Mystic, Conn., on Dec. 18, and has been asked by an elementary school to visit. After the holidays he will, he says, and adds that his next goal is to “help young people. I never want them to suffer from illiteracy like I did.”
The book comprises 29 stories, including harrowing tales about losing a cousin in a drowning accident and surviving his own perfect storm:
His boat rode a 90-foot wave before being sucked under water. His favorite story is a letter he sent to his nephew, after his nephew encouraged him to learn to write.
Marlisa McLaughlin says her grandfather is “the 2011 icon of someone who never gives up. He’s truly remarkable. There’s a lot of hardship in his stories.”
She is getting requests from around the world for the book and has hired an agent.
“I hope many people and employers hear about him,” says AARP’s Sara Rix. “It shows that people are never too old to learn.”