ALBANY, Ga. -- The Southwest Public Health District announced Tuesday the passing of former Dougherty County Health Department Manager Cheryl Henley.
She was 66.
The district's public information officer, Carolyn Maschke, said that Henley, who was a two-time breast cancer survivor, passed away Monday after a lengthy illness.
Henley retired from the health department on June 30 after working there for roughly 35 years. She has been described by her former colleagues as a champion and "the guiding force for public health" in the community who cared about the individuals she worked with.
"She loved the Dougherty County Health Department; this was her life," said Dr. Jacqueline Grant, director of the Southwest Public Health District.
Officials were preparing to throw a retirement party for Henley, which would have been held Friday. Her son was on his way from Afghanistan to attend the festivities.
Grant did not specify the cause of death but did confirm that Henley had been ill for some time.
"We knew she had been ill, but it is still a shock to the district family," Grant said. "This is a huge loss."
Joyce Malone, the Women, Infants and Children program director at the health department, had been working with Henley for 28 years up until her retirement.
"She was a person who has always made a great impact," Malone said. "She was a great mentor, and she had a passion for people.
"I'm still trying to get over the shock (of her death)."
Co-workers say one thing that made Henley stand out was how far she was willing to go to ensure the health department's patients felt comfortable.
"She felt like it was just as important that the health department be as nice as any other health care facility in town," Grant said.
Given the contributions Henley made, it was hard for the department's staff not to be impacted by the loss.
"It will take some time for the health department to recover," Grant said. "She will be greatly missed."
With Henley having been retired for roughly three weeks, the Dougherty County Health Department has been in a transition mode.
And she likely would have wanted her former co-workers to follow through with that process.
"She would have expected us to move forward and take the community in a new direction," Malone said. "We are looking forward to making progress."
One of the things about Henley that Malone said she admired was how well-dressed she always was.
"We looked forward to her greeting us every day," Malone said. "We will really miss that."
When flooding hit Southwest Georgia in July 1994, Henley had a direct role in making sure the community remained intact -- even though the health department itself was feeling the impact of the rising water.
"She was on vacation at the time and cut her vacation short to see how she could help to keep the community on its feet," Malone said.
"She worked day and night to get everything as much in focus as we could."
Brenda Greene, deputy director of the health district, had known Henley since she came to work here in 1983. In her time working with Henley, one particular point of pride Greene recalled was the construction of the health department's current facility in 1993.
"She was proud of the design of the new health department, which allowed the staff to (better) function," Greene said.
Greene also remembers Henley's interest in emergency response -- an interest fueled in part by the flood -- advancement of health care technology, outreach clinics and some of the programs she was instrumental in starting such as Centering Pregnancy and the health department's dental services division.
Henley's first job with the health district, the deputy director said, was high-risk infant follow-up.
"That's probably where her heart was," Greene said. "She was also a mentor to other health department directors in the district. She took them under her wing.
"She would have wanted (the health department's) legacy to be that services (remain) accessible to those that need them. I think that's the legacy she would have wanted us to carry on."
Interim personnel are currently managing the day-to-day operations of the Dougherty County Health Department. Interviews are being conducted to determine who Henley's permanent replacement will be.
Henley's family is receiving family and friends at 2719 Davenport Drive. Meadows Funeral Home is handling arrangements. Additional information regarding funeral arrangements were unavailable Tuesday afternoon.