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Willis R. Henton, first bishop of Western Louisiana, dies

2/21/2006
[Episcopal News Service]  The life and ministry of Willis R. Henton, 80, the first bishop of Western Louisiana, was celebrated at a burial service and Requiem Eucharist February 18 at the Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana. The Rt. Rev. Bruce Macpherson, the current and third bishop of Western Louisiana, officiated.

Henton was born July 5, 1925 in Danbury, Nebraska, one of eight children born to Burr M. and Vaire Godown Henton. He died February 16 at Iberia Medical Center in New Iberia, Lousiana.

Henton grew up on his family's homestead in southwestern Nebraska. After his high school graduation, he enlisted in the infantry, serving in World War II, surviving the Battle of Okinawa, and receiving the Bronze Star.

He graduated from General Theological Seminary in New York City with the Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree in 1952. In 1972, he was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology from General. He was also the recipient of the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from the University of the South (Sewanee) in 1972.

During his time at General, Henton met his future wife, Martha Somerville Bishop. They were married in 1952, and left together almost immediately for mission work in the Mountain Province of the Philippines. Henton was ordained in 1953 by Suffragan Bishop Lyman Ogilby of the Philippines. From 1952 to 1956 he served at St. Benedict's Mission and at Easter School in Besao, Mountain Province in the Philippines.

Returning to the United States, he served briefly as curate of St. Luke in the Fields Episcopal Church in Greenwich Village, New York City, before being called to Christ Memorial Episcopal Church in Mansfield, Louisiana, where he served from 1958 to 1961. From 1961 to 1964, he was rector of St. Augustine's in Baton Rouge.

Henton was elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Northwest Texas in 1971 and was consecrated in 1971 by the Rt. Rev. John Maury Allin, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He served in Northwest Texas until 1980, when he was elected first bishop of the new Diocese of Western Louisiana, becoming the first diocesan bishop in the history of the Episcopal Church to be translated (transferred) from one diocese to another.

When he retired in 1990, the Hentons moved to New Iberia, where they enjoyed sporting events at the Episcopal School of Acadiana (ESA), life at the Church of the Epiphany, and entertaining friends in their home. They also traveled extensively. Henton remained active in retirement, supplying for vacationing clergy, filling in during vacancies, and volunteering at ESA.

Henton was preceded in death by his wife of 53 years, Martha Somerville Bishop Henton, who died December 21, 2005. He is survived by his son, David V. Henton, p/BSG; his brothers and sisters-in-law: Delmar Henton, Bob & Delores Henton of McCook, Nebraska, Garnet & Dorothy Henton of McCook, Nebraska; by his sister-in-law, Vasser Bishop of Oxford, MS; by his brother-in-law, Dr. M.B. Howorth of Oxford, MS; and by numerous nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and -nephews.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to: the Henton Scholarship Fund at the Episcopal School of Acadiana, P.O. Box 380, Cade, LA, 70519; the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church, 175 Ninth Avenue, New York, NY 10011; or The Rev. Augusto M. Cunning (for the Episcopal Schools of the Mountain Province), Kin-iway, Besao, Mountain Province 2618 Philipines.