Be careful who you claim to be. Dave Lambert might be "on your case."
83-year-old Bill Henry of Lakeland, Florida died of a heart attack last week. News of Henry's death appeared first in a paid obituary in The (Lakeland) Ledger on Thursday. On Saturday, a brief news item about Henry's death appeared in The Ledger's sports section under the headline "Major League Relief Pitcher Bill Henry, of Lakeland, dies at 83." That item was picked up by The Associated Press, which distributed it nationally.
The obituary and follow-on stories all contained information that Bill Henry had told his family, friends and neighbors for years: he had been a pitcher in baseball's major leagues for 16 years, even pitched in two games of the 1961 World Series while playing for the Cincinnati Reds.
David Lambert, a genealogist for the New England Historic Genealogical Society and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research, is always on the alert for news of deceased professional baseball players. (You can find an earlier article about one of Dave's previous searches at http://blog.eogn.com/eastmans_online_genealogy/2006/09/genealogist_fin.html.) When he caught wind of Henry's death he noticed a discrepancy in the age mentioned in the obituary.
Dave decided to check it out and called the baseball player's "widow" on the phone to verify some details. She was a bit surprised by the call and reported that the real, live ex-major leaguer husband was sitting near her at the moment. She handed the phone to her husband and Dave started a conversation asking trivia questions about Bill Henry's baseball career. The very-much-alive Bill Henry answered every question without hesitation.
It seems that 83-year-old Bill Henry of Lakeland, Florida had for years impersonated 79-year-old Bill Henry of Deer Park, Texas. The Florida resident showed baseball cards of the real Bill Henry and even gave talks to grammar school classes, claiming to be the baseball player of the 1950s and 60s. However, it is now obvious that he was an impostor.
As Mark Twain once said, "the news of my death is a bit premature." The real baseball player is still very much alive and well. Henry is being besieged with calls from relieved relatives and quizzical journalists. Media outlets are now scrambling to correct erroneous obituaries.
In the meantime, the widow of the deceased man, Elizabeth Henry of Lakeland, Florida, is very confused. As the third wife of Bill Henry, she now fears she never really knew her husband of nearly twenty years. "I just took his word that that's who he was," she said Tuesday. "It's an awful shock. It's hard."
Kudos to Dave Lambert on this one!
You can read more about this tale at http://www.theledger.com/article/20070905/NEWS/709050475/1004 and http://tinyurl.com/2ul988.