Ed Grisamore

Gris: The legacy of Big Henry

Wherever he went and whatever he did, Henry Leslie made a giant impression.

It was if that “H” in his name stood for “Huge” and “Heart,” as well as Henry.

Of course, it was never easy to hide. He was 6-foot-8 and weighed more than 300 pounds, give or take a few biscuits.

His friends all called him “Big Henry.” He was one of those guys who could block the sun, while spreading his sunshine at the same time.

The heart was directly proportional to the man.

And, even after that heart stopped beating five years ago, those who knew him found a way for his memory to linger.

His buddies learned to bring deep pockets whenever they would gather at the Cheers tavern on Northside Drive. When it came to charity, Henry could run up a big tab.

At the end of that bent elbow was a helping hand.

He was forever rushing to someone’s side. The greater the need, the greater his resolve.

Among his passions in life -- ranking up there with his family, the Marines, the Atlanta Falcons and funny jokes -- was the Methodist Home for Children and Youth in Macon.

On Tuesday, the fourth annual Big Henry Golf Classic will be at Healy Point Country Club, with proceeds going to the Methodist Home.

Organizers hope to add another $12,000 to the $35,000 they raised in the three previous tournaments. (For more information, call Tommy Carter at 256-2334 or Ray Ellington at 447-8814. Contributions also can be made to the Big Henry Fund, P.O. Box 18101, Macon, GA 31209.)

The tournament always has been held around Henry’s May 9 birthday. He was 62 when he died in September 2010.

Some folks will remember him as the owner of Carpet Salvage. Still others will remember him as a Falcons season ticket holder for 35 years. One year, he attended every Atlanta game, home and away. He was buried in his favorite jersey.

He grew up the youngest of four children in Jones County. He was named Henry for one grandfather and Mitchell for the other. He was a basketball star at Jones County High School.

He joined the Marines and was on his way to Vietnam, by way of Okinawa, when it was decided the U.S. Marines basketball team could use some help on the backboards.

After four years in the service, he received a basketball scholarship to Shorter College. He coached football and girls basketball at Calhoun High School.

While living in the area, he became acquainted with the carpet industry. The city of Dalton, 20 miles up the road, was known as the “carpet capital of the world.”

Henry moved to Macon and opened Carpet Salvage in the Jonesco Shopping Center, at the corner of Joycliff Road and Ga. 49. He also worked as a bouncer at Larry G’s nightclub on Emery Highway.

In the early years, he would load carpet and rugs and sell them out of the back of his truck. He later opened Carpet Salvage stores on Shurling Drive and Log Cabin Drive.

The Log Cabin store was damaged by high winds during the Mother’s Day tornado on May 11, 2008, just a few days after Henry’s 60th birthday. It looked like a freight train ran over it.

Big Henry became a major contributor to charities and nonprofits in the area. His sister, Faye King, said he inherited his giving heart from their mother, Frances Moore Leslie Sutton.

Much of his work was behind the scenes. He never sought publicity or recognition.

At the center of his philanthropy were the children at the Methodist Home. He would buy toys at Christmas and coats in the winter -- something “new” for kids who often live in a hand-me-down world. When they graduated from high school, he would let them pick out carpet remnants for their college dormitory rooms and apartments.

His larger-than-life memory looms over the golf tournament that carries on his legacy.

His friends have been known to shed a tear or two when they talk about Big Henry, knowing he is looking down on them and smiling.

Contact Gris at 744-4275 or egrisamore@macon.com.