Henry was born Viola Susannah Noel-Hutchinson to
Leanora Noel and Peter Hutchinson on Union Island, St. Vincent, West Indies, on
June 18, 1922. Her mother died when she was only 10 years old, but her last
wish and desire for her daughter was for her to become a teacher. At age 12, Viola
went to live with a family who introduced her to the Seventh-day
Adventist message. She embraced the faith and was baptized.
Viola was a very ambitious young woman and so she left
Union Island at the age of 16 to visit an older brother who lived in Aruba.
There, she met Thomas Adolphus Henry-Phipps, who had just returned home after
working on an assignment in Mexico for a few months for the Shell Oil Company.
On his way home he said he prayerfully wondered when he would find a wife and have a family of his own. As if in answer to his prayers, when he arrived home he saw a beautiful young woman in his house. Viola married Thomas at age
16 on May 2, 1939.
The young couple lived in Aruba and started a family there. Viola
was very active in the church and was known for reciting long poems. Viola
and Thomas, ambitious and adventurous, left Aruba in 1954 for St. Kitts with their
seven children. After living there for only a short time, and after discussing a
plan with Viola, Thomas decided to leave St. Kitts for England because he
heard that there was work there, and he desired a better life for his children.
So, he left for England in September of 1955, and Viola and their eight
children—they had one more in St. Kitts—followed in early 1956.
Soon after arriving in England and settling in the city
of Birmingham —the second largest city in England—Viola
joined the Handsworth Seventh-day Adventist church, located on Nineveh
Road at the time. While Handsworth church was and still is the second largest
Adventist church in Birmingham—Camphill SDA church being the largest, formed
almost 60 years ago—it is the oldest Adventist church in that city and was
founded almost ninety years ago.
Viola threw herself into church work. Her desire was to
work fulltime for God. She held numerous church offices which included: Community
Services Director, Stewardship Ministry Leader, Sabbath School Superintendent,
Choir Director, Adult Sabbath School Teacher, Personal Ministries Leader, and
Deaconess. She became a prodigious
soul-winner, bringing hundreds of people to God and helping to plant many
churches, which included Northfields, Newtown and Smethwick churches. She also advised, encouraged and comforted
ministers and their wives.
In the surrounding communities Viola was known for her
love, patience and kindness, community work, godly advice and Bible
studies. She was also known
for encouraging people to use herbs and natural remedies for healing common
ailments, and gave community demonstrations on how to use these natural
methods. Additionally, she raised the most funds for Ingathering Campaigns, an official yearly church
fundraiser for ADRA—Adventist
Development and Relief Agency, an international humanitarian agency in operation since November
In the late 1950s the Handsworth church on
Nineveh Road became dilapidated and was no longer fit to worship in. Viola, a
woman of action, went looking for a new location for the church. She
found a building on Hutton Road, and sought ways for the conference to purchase it.
She raised funds through her grand concerts and her husband Thomas—though not a
Christian at the time—can remember going with her to pay for the building. The
Handsworth church building on Hutton Road was bought on December
19, 1966, for £9,500. The building was renovated and the Handsworth
church members soon occupied it and had a wonderful dedication service to
celebrate this occasion.
Handsworth and Camphill
were the leading churches in the Conference in soul-winning during the late
seventies and early eighties. Viola made an outstanding contribution through her Bible studies and soul-winning efforts.
In the 1960s and 1970s she pioneered hosting grand musical concerts and raised hundreds
of pounds for church building projects. Soon, whenever a
group of Adventists wanted to plant a church they would call on Viola to plan
one of her grand concerts to raise funds for their church ventures. She became known for raising considerable amounts of money for buildings to be
renovated and converted into places of worship.
churches became filled with new converts from Viola’s parttime soul winning efforts; yet
she still said, “I want to work for the Lord, fulltime,” since at that time she
worked full time at the John
Lucas factory in Newtown,
Birmingham. One minister recalls Viola’s enthusiasm for
soul-winning: “I began to work in Handsworth [SDA church] about 1972. Before I began
[as senior pastor] Viola was always busy giving Bible studies in the
afternoons. [After] I arrived she continued her missionary work. Consequently,
every baptism I had she had someone who was ready for baptism. Soon we
were having baptisms every three months and the number of candidates grew. By
this time I needed help more than what the elders could give and she was the
most qualified lay person. It was an accepted fact that whether she was
employed or not, she was going to work for her Master. After
each baptism she would visit those who had made decisions. We had a
Pastor's Bible Class in the Minister's Vestry which grew so large that it had
to be transferred to the Choir Vestry.”
the encouragement of the first Black office secretary to the Stewardship Departmental Director of the North British
Conference—a young lady who Viola adopted—Viola applied for a Bible
Instructor’s Correspondent Course and completed it. She was then interviewed by
Bryan Ball, the President of the North British Conference at the time. Her application
was accepted and on October 1, 1973, she became the very first Black Bible Instructor to ever work for any conference in England.
During her ministry she also accepted preaching appointments from churches across the North British Conference.
Some of Viola’s favorite hobbies included: singing—from dawn to dusk—music, reading,
writing, studying, poetry, fashion designing, tailoring and sewing—she often
sewed clothes for her ten children—cooking and baking—she became
internationally famous for her vegetarian cooking, and ministers from different
parts of the world would encourage other visiting ministers to make sure they
got invited home for Sabbath dinner by Sister Henry—speaking, preaching,
teaching and Bible research, crocheting and knitting. She also loved God’s
nature, enjoyed going on outings and meeting new people.
She memorized and recited long poems in the grand
concerts she would organize, and was invited to churches to speak and recite
these long poems, because she had a knack for reciting them with humor and
sprite. She also adopted young people who had no parents or whose parents
were not Christians, and her home was a refuge for the youth and the
Viola was a miracle woman to many people. Even though she had never studied psychology,
she was advisor and counselor to many. Even though she never saw the inside of
a seminary, she was known as a great preacher. Even though she never received
any conventional training as an evangelist, she won hundreds of souls to the
Lord as long she was able to work for Jesus. Even though she never went to
school to learn music, she received and taught piano lessons and today there
are people who are accomplished pianists who were once her students. She also
directed choirs even though she was never taught how to direct. She sang, acted
and was a playwright, even though she had a minimal formal education, but she
also took college courses and owned the Bible Commentaries, Bibles for Bible
research and owned and read the complete library of Ellen G. White.
children all educated and grown up, in 1987 Viola and Thomas decided to
immigrate to West Palm Beach, Florida, America, because of Viola’s health. In
1994 when she went to Loma Linda University Medical Center because of her advanced
heart disease, the attending Cardiologist had to call the students to come and
gaze upon a miracle woman. He stated that Viola’s heart had made its own bypass
several different times, and that by
rights she should have been dead a long time ago.
After diagnosing her with multiple heart
disease and Alzheimer’s they told her that there was nothing more that they
could do for her. Even after that, Viola lived until Friday, April 16, 1999,
when she quietly passed away in Jesus at the age of 76, in Colombia Hospital in
West Palm Beach, Florida, surrounded by her husband of 60 years—who by that
time had accepted Jesus because of Viola’s spiritual influence and exemplary
Christian lifestyle—and most of her ten children, who sang her favorite hymns
in her last Sabbath evening worship on Earth, as she fell asleep in Jesus. She
truly was a miracle woman, saved to serve by the Miracle Worker Himself, King Jesus.
-Rosita P. Antonio