A Gift of Healing

Richard A. Henson Foundation helps bring state-of-the-art care to Delmarva

Richard A. Henson was born to fly — and give wings to important health and community initiatives through the success he found through flight.

Cancer, heart disease, COVID-19 — whatever patients at TidalHealth are facing, it’s likely their care is in some way made possible by the generous donations of the Richard A. Henson Foundation. Its founder changed both the Eastern Shore community and the world of aviation.

In 1927, at just 17 years old, Henson completed advanced mechanical training and convinced two friends to go in with him on a C-Z Challenger plane for $1,500. His mother cosigned a loan to raise the $375 he needed.

Immediately after the sale, the Hagerstown, Md., native began taking pilot lessons. After soloing in 1930, he acquired a commercial license a year later, which allowed him to fly passengers for hire.

By 1932, Henson purchased the Blue Ridge Flying Service and renamed it Henson Flying Service. As business grew, Henson began adding planes to his stable and he quickly earned the government’s top rating of an airline transport pilot.

He eventually started the Hagerstown Commuter airline, providing air service between Hagerstown, Md., and Washington, D.C. He was considered a pioneer in commuter aviation and is credited with originating the concept of using commuter aircraft to serve small cities and connect passengers to larger aircraft in larger cities. This concept has become a core element of the business model of today’s hub-and-spoke airlines.

In 1983, he took his airline business to Piedmont Aviation. The alliance allowed Henson to update his aircraft and expand service throughout the Southeast as “Henson, the Piedmont Regional Airline.” On July 1, 1989, US Air bought Piedmont, and by 1993, the Henson logo was phased out.

Throughout the years, Henson earned a stellar reputation for running a safety-oriented, well-maintained fleet of aircraft, and accumulated a vast number of awards for his accomplishments in aviation, business, and philanthropy.

“The purpose of the Foundation is to ensure continuation of Mr. Henson’s philanthropic goals and to enrich the quality of life in the Greater Salisbury area,” said Donna Altvater, Executive Director of the Richard A. Henson Foundation. “The Foundation has a broad-based interest, with strong focus in the areas of education, youth, community outreach and development.”

Support for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Salisbury University and Wor-Wic Community College span three decades along with the YMCA, Junior Achievement, and Del-Mar-Va Council BSA; many other local organizations have benefited as well.

Richard A. Henson, known as the “father of commuter airlines,” made his first donation to what is now TidalHealth Peninsula Regional in 1987. Since then, the foundation created in his honor has donated millions of dollars to the advancement of research and cancer care on Delmarva.

Henson’s healthcare legacy

Richard A. Henson made his first donation to what is now TidalHealth Peninsula Regional in April 1987 to establish a chaplaincy fund and Meditation Room in honor of his parents. He wanted to provide in perpetuity for the spiritual care of patients, their families, and hospital staff.

Since then, the foundation created in his honor has donated millions of dollars to the advancement of research and cancer care on Delmarva.

“It was a true honor to have known Richard Henson as a friend and philanthropist,” said Denise Billing, President of the TidalHealth Foundation. “Mr. Henson was determined to help those who needed it most by enhancing resources in his community. His donations to TidalHealth Peninsula Regional through his Foundation helped provide first-class cancer care close to home. “

TidalHealth’s Richard A. Henson Cancer Institute, with locations in Salisbury and Ocean Pines, and TidalHealth’s Richard A. Henson Research Institute are making medical advancements — and affecting the health and wellness of Delmarva residents — every day.  The same great care extends to the Allen Cancer Center in Seaford, which now falls under the TidalHealth umbrella.

“Mr. Henson was personally touched by cancer, losing his first and second wife to the disease; however, the decision to make this grant had more to do with how cancer touches almost everyone in our region in one way or another,” Altvater said.

When Henson made a donation, Billing said, he wanted it to have the maximum impact. At TidalHealth, it has. Because of Henson’s generous donations, Delmarva residents have gained access to state-of-the-art care without having to cross the bridge.

Stereotactic radiosurgery, a non-invasive surgery involving the use of extremely focused beams of high doses of radiation to destroy cancer abnormalities within the brain, is offered exclusively on the Shore at TidalHealth’s Richard A. Henson Cancer Institute.

At all locations, cancer treatment options include medical and radiation oncology. Some patients also benefit from immunotherapy, which uses their own immune system to fight the disease. For each patient, a multidisciplinary team approach brings all specialists to the table to create individualized care plans.

TidalHealth’s Richard A. Henson Research Institute has been engaged with many cancer and heart disease research projects, and partners with the Johns Hopkins Clinical Research Network to bring trials to the Shore. Recently, the institute has been recruiting for COVID-19 vaccine trials and treatments for COVID-19, including a clinical trial for a new therapy that repairs air sacs in the lungs of patients recovering from COVID-19.

Dr. Bob Joyner, Director of TidalHealth’s Richard A. Henson Research Institute, said he’s blessed to work with such a dedicated team.

“It’s important to know that TidalHealth is unique,” he said. “We take the job of caring for our community very seriously, and we’re doing a great job.”

Henson’s vision is helping to bring that care to our community.