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November 5, 2019

Faces of Fauquier: FHS grad helps build “cool stuff”

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“I grew up as a kid visiting job sites, climbing on equipment,” says Gerald “Tripper” Henson, who followed his father’s footsteps into the construction industry.
I know a lot of people in this area have long commutes, because they’re traveling into the city. And I like to think that I helped them get home to their families a little bit quicker and safer.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The construction project manager knew at an early age that he probably would follow in his father’s footsteps.

Gerald L. “Tripper” Henson III’s dad had a long career as a contractor, developer and owner of a roadway striping and signage company.

“I grew up as a kid visiting job sites, climbing on equipment,” recalled Mr. Henson, 31, who lives near Warrenton and works for Lorton-based Shirley Contracting Co. “Dad was very involved, obviously, and it was just natural for me” to do the same kind of work.

Laughing, he added: “I really didn’t know any different. I often say I don’t know what else I’d be any good at.”

In the summer of 2010, Mr. Henson landed an internship with Shirley Contracting.

A year later — after earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Virginia Tech — he joined the company as a project engineer.

In short order, the 2006 Fauquier High School graduate got promoted to assistant project and then project manager.

Mr. Henson oversees the $26.9-million Warrenton interchange project and up to 50 Shirley workers and subcontractors.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board in 2018 awarded the $19.6-million construction contract to Shirley and Fairfax engineering firm Dewberry Inc.

One to two months ahead of schedule, the project could be completed between next fall and winter, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation. Just north of Lord Fairfax Community College, it will replace a busy intersection and improve safety and traffic flow, VDOT officials said.

In his eight years with Shirley Contracting, Mr. Henson has managed or helped manage four big jobs.

He uses words such as “cool” and “neat” when talking about the Warrenton interchange job — his second and biggest as project manager — the work he has completed and contracts in the pipeline.

“We build some really cool stuff,” Mr. Henson said. “We do some really neat things that I think a lot of the traveling public really appreciates.”

While bridges and roadwork represent Shirley’s “bread and butter,” the company does site development and utility work, he said.

He also will manage the construction of a planned D.C. United soccer training facility in Loudoun.

“Every day is different. You never know what’s going to come up. It makes it interesting. The challenge is worth the satisfaction at the end of the day. If it were easy, everybody would do it. Right.”

Mr. Henson lived in Prince William County until age 5, when his family moved to Fauquier.

Like his father, he took to sports, playing travel baseball and outfield for Fauquier High’s varsity team.

“Dad was very involved in youth sports.”

For many years, his father served as president of the Fauquier Babe Ruth League and spent countless hours building, grading and maintaining ballfields in the county, Mr. Henson said.

In 2014, his father, Gerald L. “Gerry” Henson Jr., died at age 58 of a heart attack.

That year, the family established the Gerry Henson Memorial Foundation, which supports youth sports in the county and provides scholarships to FHS seniors who will attend Virginia Tech and Bridgewater College, Mr. Henson said.

Henson family members have graduated from both schools.

The foundation’s annual golf tournament at Fauquier Springs Country Club clears $10,000 to $16,000, which funds scholarships, Mr. Henson said.

The foundation plans to make “a substantial contribution to some youth sports organization” in Fauquier and perhaps help pay for batting cages, upgrade fields and construct concession stands at the county’s Central Sports Complex along Meetze Road just south of Warrenton, he said.

• Age

• Home 
Near Warrenton

• Work
Project manager, Shirley Contracting Co. LLC, Lorton, 2011-present.

• Why do you do the job?
I take great pride in driving down the road and saying I had a hand in building some really cool projects. I know a lot of people in this area have long commutes, because they’re traveling into the city. And I like to think that I helped them get home to their families a little bit quicker and safer.

• Family
Wife, Tara, 30.

• Education
Bachelor’s degree, civil engineering, Virginia Tech, 2011; Fauquier High School, 2006.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
Twenty-six years.

• Why do you live here? 
I enjoy the rural setting with access, if needed, to the larger city life. I enjoy being able to go to Home Depot or Walmart or the grocery store and run into somebody I know.

• How do you describe this county? 
Very tight-knit community. Some of my best friends to this day are the same best friends I had when I moved here in the first grade.

I love the friendly nature of everybody here. I’m a pull-into-the-neighborhood (person), you wave at everybody walking down the street. You don’t see that in other counties. It’s a very welcoming and engaging community.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
I really wish that there were more things for the youth to do. I love that the Central Sports Complex is finally getting built and really hope here soon that the southern end of the county is right behind it.

I remember growing up as a kid, being super into baseball and not really having the facilities in the county that a bunch of neighboring counties — Prince William and Loudoun — have.

• What do you do for fun? 
I do a lot of golfing. I enjoy the outdoors. Fall weekends I spend a lot of time in Blacksburg. I’m a big college football fan. So my wife and I and friends go to a lot of games at Virginia Tech, as well as travel to some premier away games.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
Fauquier Springs Country Club, specifically Hole 15. That was a special one to Dad. So, we kind of always joke that that was his least-favorite hole. After Dad’s passing, it got the nickname of “Henson’s Hill.”

There’s a little hill at the bottom that Dad always thought he could make it to the green but always ended up short. And, all his buddies always teased him about it. It brings back memories of him.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
I know a lot of people like to say it’s going to blow up, like the next Gainesville. But, I see it being a lot the same. Sure, more people moving this way, more building, more homes. That’s inevitable.

• Favorite TV show?
“College Game Day.”

• Favorite movie?
“Major League.”

• Favorite book?
“Every Day I Fight: Making a Difference, Kicking Cancer’s A_ _” by Stuart Scott.

• Favorite vacation spot? 
Kiawah Island, S.C.

• Favorite food? 

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom? 
I can’t remember one person but everybody somewhere along the line said treat people the way you want to be treated. I try to put myself in other people’s shoes.

• Who’s your hero and why?
Dad. He did a lot for folks that most of them didn’t even realize — the countless hours of volunteering and giving back to facilities in the county, working at Fauquier High School on the fields. And, he never expected anything in return.

I always say he wanted the next group of kids or citizens to have it better than we had it.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery? 
The first thing I’d do is pay off debt. I’d love to do something within the community specific to youth sports in Dad’s memory — whether that’s build a field that becomes Gerry Henson Memorial Field, somehow use that money to recognize all that he did during his time.

And, maybe upgrade my Virginia Tech football tickets.

Have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? Email Don Del Rosso at or Lou Emerson at
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Truepat · November 8, 2019 at 6:43 am
A perfect example of family values, goals and a product of a great family environment, congratulations, I had the same growing up and passed the values on to my children who are achieving great things as well.....
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