Richard Dillon Henry, 17; Beloved Local Teen
July 11, 2007
Richard Dillon Henry, age 17, beloved son of Harriet Zaretsky and Stephen Henry and adored brother of Taylor, died on July 6. The reaction to Dillon’s death throughout the community has been extraordinary, reflecting the enormous impact he had on all who knew him. Dillon’s friends talk about him as the ‘go-to guy,’ who always ‘had their back’ and made everyone smile because he always had a huge smile on his face. Dillon’s friends created a page on Facebook: Rest in Paradise, Dillon Henry. More than 1,000 friends have already joined the page in Dillon’s memory, sharing stories about how much fun he was to be around and, more important, that he was a supportive, compassionate friend.
What made Dillon remarkable was his love of life, the zest with which he lived it, and his infectious sense of fun. His larger-than-life personality and spirit touched everyone. An unforgettable friend to all those who shared in his life, he made each person feel a special connection with him. This was especially true with his sister Taylor. He was the consummate big brother, the source of much laughter, love and support. For a teenage boy, Dillon was able to forge a unique relationship with his parents by sharing his life and dreams and his writings and art.
An honors student at Palisades High School who had completed his junior year with more than a 4.0 average, Dillon just learned that he was in the top four percent of his class and would be guaranteed admission to a University of California campus. While at PaliHi, he was honored as Student of the Month and nominated for Student of the Year in his freshman year. He co-founded the Ocean Awareness Club, an organization concerned with coastal environmental protection, beach clean-up and environmental awareness. It became the most popular community-service club, and its members earned more community service hours than any other club on campus.
Dillon’s team spirit and enthusiasm were evident throughout his activities at Pali. He played on the school’s soccer team for three years, was a member of the surf club, and participated in three drama competitions sponsored by the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California. He played AYSO soccer for many years and was a member of the Santa Monica Strikers, a club soccer team.
Dillon lived in Rustic Canyon his entire life. He attended Crestwood Hills Nursery School and Rustic Canyon Nursery School. After two years at Crossroads School, he attended Canyon Charter School and Wildwood Middle School.
Unusual for a teenage boy was Dillon’s love of kids of all ages, and the feeling was mutual. Starting at age nine, he returned to Rustic Canyon Nursery School to work as an assistant during the summers, and continued to work there until last summer. He was also a counselor-in-training at Skylake Camp. Dillon was the pied piper’someone who all the kids admired and adored.
Dillon’s passions were surfing, soccer, music, writing and travel. He was scheduled to leave July 7 for a surf trip in Nicaragua with his cousins and some friends. He earlier went to Spain with a PaliHi group, and traveled extensively, including to London, Costa Rica, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Alaska and Hawaii. An exceptional writer, Dillon had been accepted to participate in a two-week program at the Emerging Writers Institute at UC Berkeley, shortly after returning from Nicaragua.
Dillon often said his goal in life was to make the world a better place. By the force of his personality and his actions, he succeeded far beyond his years. Dillon was concerned about the world community and was involved in numerous community service projects throughout the years, including raising money for drilling water wells in Darfur and tutoring underprivileged children.
An example of Dillon’s far-reaching popularity was the almost immediate response to his death. A grief counseling session was held at Kehillat Israel last Friday night. With only four hours’ notice, 200 kids came to talk about Dillon and share a candle-lighting ceremony, led by two local psychologists, Marty Nislick and Alan Yellin. On Saturday night, about 30 of Dillon’s surfing friends gathered around a fire at a Malibu beach house. They talked about Dillon, and wrote a book of letters to him. Early Sunday morning, about 50 surfers paddled out from Zuma beach through the heavy surf, and then formed the traditional surfer’s circle, with Dillon’s board in the middle. They talked about him again, and tossed flowers into the ring as dozens of friends and family watched from shore.
A standing-room-only funeral was held at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park on Tuesday, attended by more than 800 people. Friends unable to attend honored Dillon through memorial services in Italy, planting trees in Israel and lighting bonfires in Yosemite.
Consistent with Dillon’s goal of helping others, contributions in his memory can be made to Jewish World Watch (firstname.lastname@example.org), an organization that mobilizes the community to combat genocide and other egregious violations of human rights in Darfur and around the world through education, advocacy and refugee relief, or Surfrider Foundation (www.surfrider.org), an environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education.
Even in death, Dillon’s sweet face and unforgettable smile will remain in our minds and hearts. He will be deeply missed by his family and hundreds of friends. Dillon, pursue your passions in paradise.