By Gere Gaige
How he changed my life….
Terry was a cross country runner at LHS, while I was a swimmer at MHS. We did not know each other… that is, we knew “of” each other because we were athletes at competing high schools, but we did not know each other. We both went to Texas Tech University, becoming Red Raider student-athletes for our respective sports, and happened to meet in the food line during the first week of classes. Seeing a familiar face, we spoke and the topic of room-mates came up as both of us had been assigned random upperclassmen.
He did not like his, and I sure did not like mine. We resolved to dump them and move in together. A day later we were setup at the corridor’s end room, second floor, Carpenter Hall-south in Lubbock, Texas. And there we lived for three-plus years as we each worked through the formative years of advanced education.
What I learned from observing Terry and sharing those years with him changed my life. His focus, discipline, high personal standards and determination to achieve made me a better man. In that first year, as he ran cross country and studied business, and I pursued swimming and a pre-med degree in chemistry, we quickly established a bond of respect and separated ourselves from the more pedestrian population in the dorm, which we considered inferior.
For each school year, we lived together struggling with the issues of university life – exhausting workouts, grades, distractions of attractive women – while we enjoyed occasional weekend 2-hour open window trips home in his 1950’s Ford Fairlane. You know the old 4-60 air conditioner (referring to windows down and driving speed.) The only offensive thing Terry ever did was move out on me in our senior year to marry his first wife. I could not believe she was a better roommate than me. (Well,…. maybe I could.) I was Best Man at his wedding.
Terry did not have a sparkling, outgoing personality. He was quiet, serious and, in fact, you’d think rather dark and dower. But it was only because he was independent, inward looking, very strong and concerned about his place in the world as a worthwhile human being. He was not concerned about what others thought of him, only that he was meeting his responsibilities and doing the right thing. By the standards of those days he would be described as a “straight arrow”, and I came to love him, for a lot of reasons but partly because he made me more “straight”.
Living with Terry for those years made me a stronger and more self-confident man. I gained habits and a view on life and people that changed my future. On graduation, we both entered the military as second lieutenants…. Terry in the Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps as he pursued a law degree, and me in U.S. Air Force pilot training towards a five-year career as a fighter jet instructor pilot. We kept loose track of each other through those service commitments, finishing at war’s end. Terry joined the staff of the City Attorney in Odessa, Texas and I began a career as a real estate appraiser in Houston.
After the birth of his daughter, life turned unkind to Terry. He was diagnosed with serious cancer, initially judged as terminal. He was referred to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Hospital in Houston, and began making trips there for treatment. For each of those trips, we hosted Terry and his family at our home in Houston. The trips were more frequent at first, and always bitter-sweet. Sweet because of the chance visit and stay close, bitter because each one involved radiation and chemo treatments that tested Terry’s physical body to the the limits.
As the years went by, and the doctors worked their magic, the visits became less frequent. More about monitoring and much more pleasant until they stopped entirely. Those miracle-workers at M.D. Andersen Cancer Center had given Terry back a normal life, and for a much longer term. And we went back to “loose contacts” as he turned fully to his legal career and a move from Odessa to the City Attorney’s office in Fort Worth, Texas. In all of this, the original two young people grew in different directions and Terry was divorced. That threw him even more intensely into his legal work, where he reached the level of Assistant City Attorney for Fort Worth.
That focus at work did not keep him from noticing at least one of the more attractive staff in the office and he and Ann Long were soon married after a mutually enjoyable courtship. Terry remained very much in love for the rest of his life. That love changed him; softer and more sociable. He did things she liked to do, even attending church events. Terry was offered several times the opportunity to compete for City Attorney, but always declined as he just could not tolerate politics. He preferred the staff support position to the back-slapping and double-dealing of city politics.
They worked together in the Fort Worth Attorney’s office until retirement, and for them that was idyllic. They walked together, made country drives, and generally paid attention to each other, much to the delight of both. A grandson was also presented by his daughter Sharyl who lived nearby.
I learned all this in the catch-up visits that occurred – as I returned to the U.S. after 15 years working in Russia’s transforming real estate market. Terry was one of my first recontacts, and all visits were by phone and E-mail. I was in homes we acquired in the Blue Ridge mountains of South Carolina and the Ozarks of Arkansas while he was solidly in Fort Worth. We enjoyed a year or so of regular exchanges while he related his joy with the females in his life, Ann, Sharyl and his sister Marsha who also lived nearby. Terry was able to share the pride of being a grandfather with Sharyl and Ann, until Ann was diagnosed with cancer.
Serious cancer that took her in a year. A very hard year for Terry, fighting the cancer with Ann, driving her back and forth to M.D. Anderson in Houston, watching her suffer with the effects of the treatments and, he told me later, wishing it were him and not her. When she died Terry was devastated.
He withdrew totally from life. Stayed home, participated in nothing and began planning to join Ann if he could. I flew to Dallas to cheer Terry and help his daughter bring him back, to no avail. Over a year or so he put all his affairs in order, prepared instructions for Ann on all details and, with grim determination, resolved to be ready to join Ann when the time came. He did nothing to hasten that time, but he did nothing to extend it either. He died peacefully at home and joined his Ann, at rest in love.
All his instructions were followed by his loving daughter Sharyl. The honor guard and folded flag recognizing his committed service to his country, the one modest flower arrangement, and the selected hymns and passages to be included in the service. His remains were cremated and placed next to Ann’s in their church reverent garden, a project Terry had dedicated himself to when Ann’s urn was placed there.
I am angry about his death. It denied us the chance to visit and share the memories that the rest of us are able to share and enjoy today. That pleasure was something I looked forward to with a man as important in my life as anyone. A man with whom I had shared so much in such important years of our lives. But that is a selfish thought. Terry, as he always did, placed himself where he wants to be, a place with Ann where he knew he needed to be.
As much as I’ve expressed that knowing Terry improved me, he claimed I had as much positive influence on him. I doubt it. Rest in peace and love, Terry. I miss you.