HENRY W. Shannon Sr. was a man of many talents, including an ability to catch fish in the Atlantic from Massachusetts to the Virgin Islands.
He had a saying: "You've gotta bake 'em to ate 'em, buy 'em to fry 'em, hook 'em to cook 'em."
It was the hooking part that he enjoyed most. He was a weaver of many tall tales about his exploits in the deep seas, but unlike many fishermen, his stories were about the ones he caught, not the ones that got away.
Henry Shannon, a veteran of two hitches in the Navy, a milkman who broke the color barrier at the old Supplee dairy company, a skilled carpenter and community activist who wrought real changes in his neighborhood, died Nov. 29. He was 83 and was living in a nursing home in Darby, but had lived most of his life in South Philadelphia.
"He had a zest for life that was displayed by his love and affection for his children, neighbors and others in his surroundings," said his daughter, Deborah Shannon-Bunch.
Henry was born in Port Deposit, Md., to Grace and Walter Shannon. After completing his education there, he enlisted in the Navy in 1942 as World War II was raging.
He served aboard the USS Haskell, an attack transport that participated in many major actions in the South Pacific. He attained the rank of boatswain's mate and was discharged in 1945.
He moved to Philadelphia, where he met and married Ethel Moore, whom he always called "Et," in 1947.
In 1953, he reenlisted in the Navy and served until 1957. Among his other duties, he taught seamanship nomenclature.
Henry was thought to be the first black milkman for Supplee Dairies. While there, he invented a type of box knife that enabled dairy workers to open cases of butter without damaging the contents.
As a community activist, Henry spurred opposition to a proposed bar at the corner of his block at 19th and Dickinson streets. He was president of the Neighborhood Improvement League. The campaign was successful and today a church sits at that corner.
"He wanted the neighborhood to remain safe, not only for his children, but for all the children on his street," said his daughter.
Henry was always concerned about the young. He was active in the Boy Scouts and volunteered with Boys Clubs of America. He taught youngsters carpentry and crafts and was always ready to teach the kids a new game.
He was a gifted carpenter, but the field was pretty much closed to African-Americans in his day, so he contented himself with helping family and friends with construction projects.
In South Philly, he was popular not only in the African-American community, but in the Italian-American community as well for helping people with their home improvements.
As a fisherman, Henry set records and won trophies for his catches.
Henry spent the last few years of his life, when he was battling Parkinson's disease, as a resident of Little Flower Manor in Darby.
Despite his illness, he engaged in gardening, played bingo and founded a men's club. Cronies, mostly fellow veterans, stopped by to view war memorabilia and share war stories.
Besides his daughter, he is survived by a son, Henry Jr.; another daughter, Patricia Ann Shannon; four sisters, Elizabeth Cannon, Joan LaRue, Betty Bond and Margaret Patricia "Teensie" Weathers; two brothers, Calvin and Kenneth Waymond "Ray" Owens; 12 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
He was predeceased by a son, Jerry, and daughter Brenda; two sisters, Jeanette and Blanche, and two brothers, Richard and Leonard.
Services: 11 a.m. today at First African Presbyterian Church, 4159 W. Girard Ave. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Fernwood Cemetery. *