SHREVEPORT, La. — Maggie Lee Henson didn’t live long enough to realize her dream of becoming a star on Broadway, but she took center stage in a memorial service celebrating her life Aug. 6 at First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La.
“My passion is acting and singing,” the 12-year-old victim of a deadly accident involving youth and adults from the church said in an audition video played at her funeral. “My goals are to become a better Christian, a better actress and a better performer and a better daughter.”
Senior Pastor Greg Hunt introduced the daughter of a member of his ministerial staff as “the flashing comet that was Maggie Lee Henson.”
Henson and another member of the church youth group died from injuries they received when a church bus carrying 17 youth and six adults blew a tire and overturned while en route to a church camp in Georgia.
Brandon Ugarte, 14, died shortly after the accident July 12, but Henson clung to life three weeks in a hospital in Mississippi before losing her battle Aug. 2. After her death doctors were able to save two of her organs to be used by other children on a donor waiting list.
Hunt described the girl as “outgoing, friendly, kind-hearted, joyful, faith-filled with a generosity of spirit to go along with her charm” who had dreams of claiming the stage and being a star.
“It’s just like her that her final chapter on this side of time and eternity would end with a worldwide audience of strangers made friends and a graceful bow and then she would exit stage right with the generosity of spirit with which she lived, providing gifts of life from her own body for two other children,” he said.
Henson’s cousin Madeline Richardson fought back tears to tell the congregation and an Internet audience viewing a live webcast the story of how she and Maggie Lee decided they looked so much alike they must be twins. The problem was that twins had to be sisters. The solution: they would be “twin cousins.”
“I remember you telling me you wanted to be famous, to be a star one day,” Richardson said in her tribute to Maggie Lee. “A real star is someone who touches people’s hearts and accomplishes great things. You did exactly that. You have touched the hearts of people you met. You also have accomplished more in the last few weeks than most people accomplish in a lifetime. You have brought families closer together and closer to God. On top of that you have also saved two lives.”
“You provided miracles for two other children through organ donation,” she said. “Maggie Lee, you truly are a star.”
Henson’s younger brother, Jack, read one of thousands of tributes to his sister posted on a web site called CaringBridge.org.
“Anyone who got to know Maggie knew that she wanted to be a singer and actress when she grew up,” he said. “But instead God used her to show thousands of people his love and mercy.”
In words of remembrance and thanksgiving, Hunt described a congregation “gathered in grief and hope.”
“For moments like this God doesn’t give us bumper-sticker bromides,” Hunt said, “the easy answers, quick, question-evading certitudes.”
“But what he does do is line the margins between time and eternity with fabulous promises, declarations of reassurance and hope,” he said.
Hunt said God is not the author of tragedy: He permits, but does not propel, other forces that are to blame.
“We live in a world in which winds batter boats and tires blow and buses roll and mothers and fathers and brothers weep,” Hunt said. “These are the culprits, not God.”
Jason Matlack, the church’s youth minister, led a prayer for the family. He was wearing a neck brace for a fractured C7 vertebra that he suffered when the bus rolled several times on a Mississippi interstate while carrying the youth group to a Passport camp on the campus of Mercer University.
After the service, webcast with technical aid from staff members at nearby Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, Maggie Lee’s body was taken to Tyler, Texas, for private burial.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.)