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Henry Castro #32

(Biography provided by Henry’s sisters, Dafne and Amber)

Henry Jose Castro Madrazo was born in Caripito, Monagas, Venezuela S. A, on December 4, 1953 of a French/Spanish mother, Corazon Madrazo de Castro and a Venezuelan/Dutch father, Henry Moises Castro Diaz, an officer in the Venezuelan Army.

Because he was a beautiful baby born during the Christmas season, he was selected to be Baby Jesus for the Church’s Live Nativity that year.   He was two years younger than me and became my companion and playmate until our brother Edgar (Kiko) and sister Dafne (Chinita) arrived in 1955 and 1957 consecutively.  Henry had beautiful gold curls, inquisitive brown eyes and a beautiful smile.   Our childhood was blessed with a wonderful family, friends and a country rich in natural beauty.  Because Dad was an Officer, we moved often and traveled considerably.   We loved the adventure but were unable to make lasting friendships.  This may have contributed to Henry being quiet, reserved and observant.  As children we attended private catholic schools of the Salesian Order.  The girls went to Maria Auxiliadora and the boys to Don Juan Bosco.

In 1963 our parents separated and our mother wanted to take us back to France.  Our father objected.  France was too far away from our country of origin.   After negotiations with lawyers our parents compromised and decided we could come to the USA for a year or so ‘to learn English’.   Dad refused to sell our house hoping we would return at the end of one year.  Little did we know, we would only go back to visit.

On the summer day of August 27, 1964 we arrived in Washington, D.C., our lives would never be the same.  President J.F. Kennedy had died the previous year.  President Nixon was in office.  We came from a basically catholic country where the color of your skin did not matter.  A country where when someone called you ‘negro’ or ‘negra’, it was a warm term of endearment.  We were raised to treat everyone with respect, especially adults and the elderly.  It was a cultural shock to see separate water fountains and bathrooms for ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ at the Washington Monument. 

Our  mother enrolled the four of us, Ambar 11, Henry 9, Edgar 7 and Dafne 5 in Saint Thomas Apostle, a Parochial Catholic School across from the Sheraton Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.   Henry immediately became a “Patrol Officer” he wore his badge with great honor as he helped children cross the streets around our school.  We lived at 2100 Connecticut Avenue N.W. an Apartament/Hotel  for a few months and moved to 4600 Connecticut Avenue, N.W. until 1967.  We rode the bus to and from school.  At first we did not know that the back of the bus was reserved for “people of color”.   In Venezuela the only bus we rode was the school bus, where sitting on the back of the bus was fun for us children.  Henry and Kiko called it the ‘Kitchen”,(la cocina).  Needless to say we were frowned upon when we sat on the back of the bus.

In 1967 someone broke into our apartment and we were frightened.  Our mother decided to move away from the city to a family oriented community with a swimming pool where the boys could play ball and where it would be safer for us children.  We moved to 4701 Seminary Road, then Van Dorn Apartments and finally our home at 805 North Latham Street, all in the Seminary Valley area or affluent West-End of Alexandria, Virginia.  It would be our first time in the public school system. The schools were all very close. I, the oldest was enrolled in 10th grade at Francis C. Hammond High School, literally across the street.  Henry enrolled in 7th grade at John Adams Middle School and Edgar and Dafne in 5th and 3rd grades at James K. Polk Elementary School.

In 1969, Henry was in the 10th grade at Francis C. Hammond High School. It was a predominantly white school with a handful of Hispanics and thus referred to as ‘The Country Club”. Henry loved sports. Here he found a role model and mentor in Coach Furman, a nice man who encouraged him, this coach made a difference.  Coaches Bill Yoast and Herman Boone would follow.  They provided the discipline and caring direction that so many adolescents need.  Few coaches realize the ‘one on one’ impact they make, in the lives of insecure young men.  

Henry started to blossom.  He wrestled and practiced football every day after school.  He made a lot of friends and worked very hard at absorbing the new culture.  It was amazing for me to see him accomplish so much without a father role to emulate, without a strong hand to guide and protect him.  If only fathers knew the importance of their  presence and participation  in the lives of their children.  Especially their sons!  Looking back I can see that there definitely was a God, a Higher Power protecting our hard working mother and the four of us.

In the Fall of 1971, a desegregation plan was implemented.  Three high schools would undergo a redistribution of students.  Francis C. Hammond and George Washington  would  only take 9th and 10th graders and T.C. Williams would take 11th and 12th graders.  This meant that Henry would have to leave Hammond’s football team were he loved being a quarterback, and move to T.C. Williams to finish high school .

We were all surprised and frightened by this change.  We could walk to Hammond,  Henry would have to be bused to T.C. Williams.  As Tim Warren wrote in his article Race Revisited, Washingtonian Magazine October, 1996- “ From nearly all white Hammond – many of whose players were afraid they would not get a fair shake at the new T.C. Williams – came hard-hitting linebacker Kirk Barker, massive center Jim Brown and the QUIET INTENSE FULLBACK, Henry Castro. And then there was aggressive linebacker Gerry Bertier…”  They didn’t know they would become part of a team that would make history and contribute to unite Alexandria, a racially divided town.  What an honor!

At age 17, Henry was 5’8” and approximately 175 lbs., not as big as some of the other players, but he was a determined fast runner and an unyielding strong block, this is how he earned the term ‘the Rock or the Storm’.  His family nickname was “Ike” but he was better known as “CHE!”  because his friends and girlfriends thought he resembled Che Guevara.   At the games you could hear people screaming Go! Che! Che! Che!

In 1972, after graduating from T.C. Williams, Henry was offered a scholarship to play football for Virginia Tech, where he wanted  to pursue a career in Architecture.  He played football from 1972-75.  He suffered a knee injury that made him consider quitting football.  It would also mean that he would loose his scholarship.  Henry wanted to transfer to another school in California but while in transit to register at said school, his student visa expired and he had to leave the country.  He decided to travel through Central and South America while he decided how he could come back to the United States.  He was one semester short of graduating.  Henry lost a box with all his college papers and I have been unable to find enough information about Henry’s years at Va. Tech.  The summer after his first year in college Henry went to Philadelphia and worked as an intern in an Architectural Firm. 

In November of 1975, at the age of almost 23, Henry became a father.  His son Isaac was born here in the United States. While Henry waited for his visa to return to the U.S., since he was bilingual, he got a job as an International Telephone Operator, and an apprentice of Enrique Sagarra, our maternal grandmother’s first cousin who is a Master Craftsman in Venezuela and owns a shop of European Marquetry (inlaid wood) Furniture.  His last completed project was an inlaid Chessboard.

On May 4, 1984, three years after we buried Gerry Bertier, Henry suffered a freak inconceivable accident in Venezuela, S.A. and passed away instantly at the brief age of 30.  His mission was over, so we thought.

It has now been 17 years since we lost his physical being but not his presence.   In a way, he like Gerry Bertier, did so much in such a short time.   He was a good student, an avid reader and extremely creative.  He wrote philosophy, painted, carved wooden sculptures loved carpentry and building birdhouses with apartments.  He built unusual concentric geometric wooden mobiles.  He had them hanging from the ceiling in his room and when they moved they hypnotized you.  He loved the Classics Beethoven and Bach and studied Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo but he also loved Jimmy Hendrix and Carlos Santana.      

He studied the Egyptian Culture in depth and built a large pyramid (three people fit in it), with special materials, lined it up with the North & South Poles and did experiments in it to preserve foods.   I remember some of his professors and some priests coming to our home to observe his experiments.  While he was in High School, aside from studying and being involved in sports, he worked after school in Peoples Drug Stores and the Hermitage, a Nursing Home.  The old people loved him.  The cooks and nurses loved him.  They used to give him whole pies to bring home.  He loved Milk, (he drank a gallon of milk per day), Peanut Butter, Bunt Cake and Chocolate or Vanilla Cream Pies.  He loved Mom’s Tuna Soufflé, Ragout (meat stew), and her Spaghetti Meat Sauce.  He was strong like an Ox! 

 But most important he was a loyal an exemplary son, brother and friend.  He was intelligent and sensitive to injustice.  He had a strong faith and believed in the power of the family unit. 

Henry traveled across the USA, Central and South America, all the way down to the Patagonia in the South of Argentina.  Henry had an uncanny way of figuring people out.  He could scan people and know what they were thinking.  I guess you could say he was a good judge of character.  He was quiet and very observant.  He was a gentleman with a reverence about him. He had a very intense and penetrating look in his eyes. The same eyes I now see in his son Isaac.

Henry would have been 48 years old on December 4, 2001.  Almost the 30th year anniversary of the Titans Championship!  He lives in our memories and our hearts.

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