Whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks had never met Jim Arruda Henry. Henry spent the first 91 years of his life illiterate. However, when he turned 92, Henry decided it was time to learn. Henry said that the tipping point for him was when he heard about George Dawson, another elderly gentlemen who learned to read when he was 98-years old.
“I said if he can do it, I’m going to try,” Henry said.
For many years, Henry hid the fact that he could not read from most of his family and friends. It makes sense that the career fisherman who only had a third grade education would be able to cope with this problem, but some of the ways he did so are quite interesting.
For example, when he went out to eat with his family, “he would wait for someone else to order and say, ‘That sounds good, I’ll have that,’” his granddaughter, Marlisa McLaughlin said. “Or if he had a bill, he’d just requisition the guy and say, ‘So how much do I owe you?’”
Finally, Henry decided it was time to learn to read when he went through a painful family situation.
“His illiteracy cost him more despair than anyone can bargain at that age,” his granddaughter said. “He signed a document he could not read about where he was going to live.”
After this event, Henry started taking baby steps to learn how to read. He started by practicing his signature, then began learning the alphabet. Sadly, his wife died shortly after Henry started learning, and he gave up his goal for four years.
When Henry was 96-years old, he began again, this time by reading children’s books and looking up words he was not familiar with in the dictionary. This process took hours at times, but Henry didn’t give up. He also hired a retired English teacher, Mark Hogan, to tutor him and help him begin writing a book about his life.
Now, at 98-years old, Henry’s first book is a smashing hit. The book, called In a Fisherman’s Language, tells about his childhood growing up in Portugal, the time he spent as a professional boxer, and many more personal stories from his life.
“Everyone has a story, and this one is timely,” said McLaughlin. “It teaches that when you’re down and out, never give up.”