ORANGE PARK – Eddie Henley recently was appointed unanimously by the town council to serve out the remainder of Ron Raymond’s term on Seat 1 after his untimely death in October.
While placed on the council after unfortunate circumstances, Henley is excited to serve the town for the next few months with the same passion for Orange Park as Raymond. He knows Raymond’s shoes can’t be filled, but he looks forward to doing his best.
“The town suffered a great loss and my heart goes out to the Raymond family,” Henley said. “Nobody can fill his shoes, but I’m looking forward to moving forward with the same passion and legacy as him.”
Henley plans to bring top-notch customer service and resident-facing cooperation that he acquired from a career of 37 years with Veterans Affairs. After graduating from high school in June of 1974, Henley enlisted into the military one month later. He moved from a reserve component position to the Army for three years where he served in Germany as a private. He left the military voluntarily after those years in the Army as an E5.
He planned to retire on the beaches along the East Coast to enjoy some sun and thaw out from the wintery freezes of Germany. But a month after his time in the military, Henley casually submitted an application to VA in Gainesville with no expectations of getting the job. A week later he was interviewed for a position that would kickstart his 37-year history with VA.
He held many titles during this tenure, but none made him prouder than the launch of the Medical Cost Recovery Program.
“I got a chance to establish the Medical Cost Recovery Program in Gainesville in 1990 and was responsible for hiring, training and launching that program,” Henley said. “We secured the first $1 million collection, although I’m sure they’re collecting many millions now.”
Henley eventually moved to Orange Park and he commuted to Gainesville for years. It wasn’t the job that brought him to his now-home, but the town itself. He recalls attending a sports game in Orange Park for his grandson nearly ruined by classic Florida torrential downpour.
“It was the worst, but we liked what we saw of the town even in the inclement weather: small-town environment, great schools, safety and the St. Johns coastline,” Henley said. “It just all came together that day. It became home.”
After moving his family here, Henley worked for the VA until 2015 when he retired with plans to live out his retirement quietly and peacefully. That didn’t last long because a friend of his convinced him to unsuccessfully run for the Orange Park Town Council shortly against Raymond.
Henley still was thankful despite the loss, because it gave him a chance to talk to and learn from Raymond. Those interactions taught Henley values that he plans to bring to the seat.
“Customer care and services was already embedded in me (because of the VA) and Raymond instilled in me the passion that I’m going to bring to the council,” Henley said.
In his retirement, Henley leads the congregation at Calvary Missionary Baptist Church as the pastor. The church has been in existence for six years now and Henley contributes the opportunity to serve on the Orange Park Town Council to God.
“I’m thankful for my Savior, God, for this opportunity to be appointed to this town council,” Henley said.
Henley will be sworn in in January and he hopes to help the council continue to tackle what he feels is Orange Park’s biggest problem: stormwater maintenance. He also hopes to improve the quality of life for all residents, but especially those living in poverty.
As Orange Park makes strides to attract new businesses to town, Henley plans to extend welcoming arms to businesses new and old in town.
“I want to provide a roundtable for them where they can talk about their concerns and what the town can do for them,” Henley said. “Orange Park is open for business.”
Henley will be the first African American on the Orange Park council, but he doesn’t want his service to be defined by that.
“I’m not naive enough to not know that I’m the first African American on the council, but I want to be known as ‘Council Member Eddie Henley,’ not ‘First African American Council Member Eddie Henley,’” Henley said.
Henley still understands the importance of his place on the council. He’s not only honored, but excited Orange Park has progressed to this point. It shows greater diversity and progression in Orange Park for him and he’s happy to see that. He’s also thankful for his selection by the other four sitting council members and showing openness to all regardless of race or gender.
As Henley nears the swear-in date for his time on the council, he wants Orange Park residents to know that he will always be fair and void of bias. Above all else, he wants them to know that he’s up there representing them, their concerns and their interests.
“This is a full-time obligation and I’ll be working around the clock in this position for them,” Henley said. “I’ll always take their call or talk to them. That’s what it’s about.”