Gregory Henderson was many things to many people during his 40-year career: business executive, consultant, coach and teacher at the University of St. Thomas.

But more than anything else, friends and relatives remember his character.

“He had an incredible sense of optimism about what was possible in himself and others he came to know,” said Shelly Regan, his sister-in-law. He was also a man who loved superlatives, she said.

“Nothing was simply good. It was great. No meal was just fine. It was always extraordinary. No vacation was merely terrific. It was world-class,” Regan said.

Henderson, of Plymouth, died May 17 of liver cancer. He was 62.

Jack Militello, professor of management at the University of St. Thomas, said that Henderson was a big guy with a full head of white hair and a great smile on his broad face. He had a warm, generous way about him that was a huge help for students entering the executive MBA program, Militello said.

“We’re talking about adults with families and jobs and a lot of responsibility trying to sort out how they take this MBA program and balance their lives,” he said.

Henderson related to students more as a peer than as a wise sage, Militello said, whether it was in classes where he taught organizational behavior, as an adviser, or at book club meetings that he organized.

Henderson received a faculty award for excellence in teaching in 2011.

Henderson grew up in Shakopee and attended Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary for high school, graduating in 1969.

John Bauer, pastor at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, called Henderson his “best friend for 49 years,” and said they met regularly for dinner and baked Christmas cookies each year on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

“He was one of those amazing people who always wanted to know more,” Bauer said. “He turned the lower level of his home into a library.”

Bauer said Henderson rarely saw issues in black-or-white terms. “He was nonjudgmental, accepting and respectful of everyone, and the only thing he was intolerant of was intolerance.”

Henderson was married to his wife, Sheila, for nearly 37 years, and raised one son, Grant, of Minneapolis.

He began working for grocery giant Supervalu in 1983, and rose to become a corporate vice president before he left in 1999.

“He related to people up and down the organization no matter what their title or role was,” said Janel Haugarth, an executive vice president at Supervalu who has stayed in touch with him. “He connected with people in a way that made them feel like they were important, not only to the company but also to him.”

Haugarth said Henderson made a midcareer switch and returned to school at the University of Minnesota to pursue his passion: organizational design and human behavior, and how to get decisions made by getting people to focus on the right things.

He could talk for hours about the books he was constantly reading and how things were changing in the business world, she said. “He could verbally download six months of reading and research in a two-hour lunch.”

In addition to teaching, Henderson started a consulting business, and also worked as a senior vice president of organizational effectiveness at QualiTech Inc. of Chaska.

Company President and CEO Cory Ploen said that five days before he died, Henderson was still calling to check on how the company was doing. “He never worried about himself,” Ploen said. “It was always everything else around him.”

In addition to his wife and son, Henderson is survived by siblings Jeff, Patty and Beth Henderson; and mother-in-law Mona Ries. Services have been held.