An esteemed couple who made Abu Dhabi their home are to be posthumously honoured in the city on Sunday.
St Andrew’s Anglican Church is to celebrate the lives and contributions of Britons Edward and Jocelyn Henderson during a special ceremony.
The church’s community space is to be named "Henderson Hall" and a plaque unveiled in their honour.
“They played such an important role in the early development here, not only at St Andrew's but also the UAE as it was becoming a nation,” said Rev Christine Trainor, senior chaplain at St Andrew's. “This is a way to celebrate their life and all the contributions they made.”
Jocelyn Henderson died at the age of 100 in 2021, while Edward died in 1995, and together they played a huge part in the life of St Andrew’s and the wider Abu Dhabi community.
Edward served in the military during the Second World War, experiencing evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk and D-Day followed by service in Jordan and Syria as a member of the Arab Legion. After the war, he worked in what was then known as the Trucial States for an oil company, gaining an insight into the region, before he joined the UK’s Foreign Office in 1956.
The couple married in 1960 and he went on to serve as political agent for Abu Dhabi and later British ambassador to Qatar.
Edward returned to Abu Dhabi in the late 1970s where he was invited by UAE Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan to create the National Centre for Documentation and Research, the forerunner of the National Archives. The city was to become their home for the rest of their lives.
“My grandfather was very interested in the history of Abu Dhabi and the UAE and was keen it be preserved”, said granddaughter Kirstin Henderson. “That’s where his role was.”
Ms Henderson said she was just four when Edward died so she did not know him very well, but a lot of people told her he was “quiet and humble”.
“A lot of people say he was a typical old English gentleman. Very intelligent and intellectual.”
Both contributed hugely to supporting life at St Andrew’s since it was established in 1968. In the late 1970s, Jocelyn founded the Daly Library at the church, one of the city’s first private libraries, staying involved until it was closed in 2014. The hall that is being dedicated to the couple housed the library. She was also a warden emeritus until her death two years ago.
Both published books about their lives. Edward’s Arabian Destiny traced his experiences in the Middle East, while Jocelyn’s The Gulf Wife showed she was a force in her own right. It charted the life she led before marriage, including her work as private secretary to Sarah Churchill — the actor and daughter of Sir Winston Churchill — and the sacrifices she made as a wife on the journey to forging her own path.
Ms Henderson said she was much closer to her grandmother because she helped take care of her in the years before her death. “She had a very dry sense of humour”, she said with a chuckle. “She believed in tradition but was also for women’s empowerment.”
Archbishop Michael Lewis of Cyprus and the Gulf will dedicate the hall after a 6pm service on Sunday, which will be open to the public.
“They would be very honoured”, said Ms Henderson. “And it makes me feel very proud.”