President William L. Henrich remembered as friend, mentor, visionary at university tribute  

William L. Henrich, MD, MACP

‘He’s the reason why so many of us joined UT Health San Antonio’

UT Health San Antonio President William L. Henrich, MD, MACP, was lovingly remembered for his energy, compassion, positivity and his unique gift for uniting people toward a common goal during a tribute ceremony honoring his legacy Friday, April 5. Henrich passed away on March 14 from complications related to a second stem cell transplantation.

The noon ceremony at the School of Nursing’s Hurd Auditorium commenced with an opera singer performing Austrian composer Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” in homage to Henrich’s love of the opera.

Watch video.

UT Health San Antonio Acting President Robert Hromas, MD, FACP, spoke about Henrich’s great legacy and how much he will be missed.

Acting President Robert Hromas, MD, FACP, thanked the university community for attending and relayed how saddened he was to first learn of Henrich’s passing, noting that it was hard to imagine that he would no longer see Henrich greeting him with his trademark optimism and smile.

“I sat in my office later that day, thinking he was going to pop his head in as he often would at 7 a.m. and say, ‘Hey, let’s go get a Starbucks,’ with a big grin on his face, happy to start the new day.”

A few days later, the deans and vice presidents gathered and traded stories about Henrich while choking back tears, Hromas said. “Some of us couldn’t even speak. We each felt a huge hole in our hearts and we were sharing stories to try to fill that hole. That shared grief really bonded us closer together. It reaffirmed our commitment to each other to fulfill his vision to make lives better right here in San Antonio.”

A guiding light 

Henrich’s enthusiasm for life and his ability to inspire and bring out the best in others was evident in the words of those who spoke of the profound impact he had on the university and on them.

UT Health San Antonio Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Andrea Marks, MBA, CPA, spoke about Henrich’s  profound impact on the university.

When Henrich began his presidential tenure in 2009, he had a grand vision for UT Health San Antonio. He believed the institution could be transformed into a premier academic health center to make lives better. His passion was contagious and inspired those around him to bring that vision to life, said UT Health San Antonio Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Andrea Marks, MBA, CPA.

“Dr. Henrich made us all believers,” she said. “Believers that San Antonio and this region deserved the very best in education, healthcare and discoveries to improve human health. And he made us believe that we were the ones capable of delivering it.”

Henrich instilled the courage to be creative, to push the envelope, to do things never thought possible, Hromas said, adding that there was no fear of failure, because everyone knew Henrich had their back. “He’s the reason why so many of us joined UT Health San Antonio,” he said.

Even when setbacks occurred, Henrich seemed to come back even stronger and more committed than ever. And there were some major setbacks.

Overcoming hurdles

A few years into his presidency, Henrich received a devasting diagnosis. He had cancer. Life as he knew it had changed, and he faced a fork in the road.

Chancellor for The University of Texas System James B. Milliken, spoke about Henrich’s resiliency and dedication to UT Health San Antonio.

“Everyone would have understood if Bill had packed it in then,” said Chancellor for The University of Texas System James B. Milliken, as he addressed hundreds of tribute ceremony attendees. “No one would have questioned the decision that, following such a brush with death, he would step back and spend his life with his family and his close friends, away from the 24/7 demands of leading a major academic health center.”

But Henrich didn’t allow adversity to stop him. He chose to continue the quest to grow and transform his beloved institution. And that he did.

His optimism continued to propel the institution forward until years later when he faced another major obstacle. This time it was a professional hurdle. A plan for a future initiative had fallen apart, and he was devastated. But not for long. He regrouped with his team and came back stronger than ever.

“It took all of about two weeks,” Milliken recalled. “He called me. He was excited. He had a new plan. He came to Austin to brief us on this ambitious and detailed plan. He gave all the credit to his colleagues. But of course, it doesn’t happen without leadership. Without Bill’s leadership.”

Milliken said that the seemingly doomed project is now well underway and even better than the one originally conceived.

“I’m so proud of what he and you were able to do,” Milliken said as he looked around the auditorium and to all those watching via livestream. “This should be a case study in a book on leadership. I’ll always remember the lesson that Bill taught me. That spirit, that optimism, that positivity, were irrepressible elements of Bill’s being, and they will be celebrated today.”

Speaking volumes without saying a word

Henrich’s gift for making others feel heard and acknowledged was evident in every interaction. Every smile. Every nod of the head. He was a master of communication, able to convey positivity through his actions, his demeanor and his apparel.

Even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Henrich joined his 6:30 a.m. Zoom meetings with Milliken and the other UT System presidents, his impeccable dress spoke volumes. His starched white shirt and his beautifully tied tie “demonstrated his enormous respect for others,” Milliken said.

“That’s why it always made me smile when I walked in a room and Bill was there or on screen impeccably dressed, with a radiant and kind smile and his sense of humor,” Milliken said. “I believe he knew what he was doing with his persona and with his dress, and it made a difference.”

A lasting legacy

John Zerwas, MD, executive vice chancellor for health affairs for the UT System, spoke about Henrich’s devotion to his family.

A loving husband, father of two and grandfather of five, Henrich’s devotion to his family was evident, said John Zerwas, MD, executive vice chancellor for health affairs for the UT System. Zerwas had known Henrich for years and considered him both a friend and mentor.

“He was a proud family man,” Zerwas said. “A proud father. And an incredibly proud grandfather.”

Francisco Cigarroa, MD, who served as president of UT Health San Antonio and as chancellor of the UT System, said Henrich’s family and upbringing helped mold him into the incredible person he was.

Francisco Cigarroa, MD, professor and director of the UT Health San Antonio Transplant Center — who previously served as president of UT Health San Antonio and as chancellor of the UT System — said Henrich’s family and upbringing helped mold him into the incredible person he was. Cigarroa then affectionately joked that after Henrich was born on Aug. 7, 1946, his parents whispered to him to dress well, wear a great tie and a handkerchief and to make the world a better place.

Henrich accomplished this with the love and support of his parents, and later, his wife, children and grandchildren, who brought him overwhelming joy.

Milliken said Henrich’s devotion to his family was ever-present. In recognition of this beautiful example of family and the importance of compassion in healthcare, Milliken announced that the UT System’s Board of Regents approved the Henrich Family Award for Compassionate Care, an endowment which “will provide in perpetuity, a recognition and significant financial award to a member of the UT Health San Antonio community who has demonstrated the qualities we all see in the Henrich family.”

The award will be given annually to a frontline healthcare worker who has demonstrated the traits that have been exemplified by Henrich and his family, including “treating everyone with compassion, empathy and respect,” Milliken said.

Henrich’s wife, Mary, expressed her appreciation for the endowment. “It will truly make a difference in so many lives,” she said. She also relayed how much her husband loved the university community and thanked the tribute speakers and everyone for attending.

Lighting up the room with laughter 

Henrich’s wife Mary closed the tribute ceremony and thanked the speakers and the university community for attending.

Mary Henrich closed the tribute ceremony by reflecting on the characteristic that first drew her to her future husband.

“Bill always said that I married him because he was really cute in high school,” she said. “After 54 years of marriage, I will tell you that cute fades. But what I married him for, and what never faded, was his unbelievably wonderful sense of humor. He was funny, but he was never funny at your expense. He was funny about himself. So, I will love and miss that forever,” said Mary Henrich.

“I will always treasure this day,” she added, noting that her husband could best explain how much the university community and its missions meant to him through the words he conveyed in his February 2024 video in which he reiterated the importance of fulfilling the purpose of serving the public good.

“While we have much to be proud of, and so much to celebrate, we have so much yet to accomplish,” Henrich said in his recorded message that played after Mary Henrich left the stage. “So many people are depending on us. Counting on us to be successful in our missions. Our noble work helps these patients, helps these families, educates these young professionals, delivers research — advances that benefit everyone, everywhere in the world. I have confidence in you to make the lofty goals we’ve established for our institution reality.”

Following Henrich’s impactful words, the remembrance ceremony concluded with a performance of Henrich’s favorite aria, “Nessun Dorna,” which translates to “Let nobody sleep,” by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini. Luminaries cast a soft glow throughout the room, and a final image appeared on the video screen of Henrich looking ahead with enthusiasm and purpose, as he did each day in life.

Paying tribute

UT Health San Antonio faculty, staff, students and community friends are invited to contribute their memories of President Henrich on a special university Tribute site and to reflect on his impact both personally and professionally.

To honor Henrich’s memory, the William L. Henrich, MD, MACP, Memorial Endowed Scholarship of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio was established.

The city of San Antonio has also honored Henrich’s outstanding achievements, contributions and selfless service by issuing a formal Certificate of Appreciation of Service posthumously to Henrich.

To view the university’s remembrance and tribute ceremony for President William L. Henrich, MD, MACP, please click the video below.

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