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Remembering Mike Terry
Ned Groth, June, 2012

(Author’s note: This biographical remembrance is based on documents and personal communications, including yearbooks, class newsletters, and conversations I had with Mike. I have woven in a few anecdotes and observations from Mike’s family, with special thanks to his brother Jim. My goal has been to create an honest and loving portrait of our classmate, as we knew him. I’ve striven for factual accuracy, but as is clear below, it can be challenging in this case. I take full responsibility for any errors. This remembrance can be amended, if need to be, as others contribute their own memories to it.  –NG)

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Mike was one of our “13 Original Colonists,” that elite group (13 of us, to be exact) who came to Darrow as freshmen in 1958 and were graduated together in 1962. For a couple of years, Mike was known as “Terry, M.H.” because there was another Michael Terry (“Terry, M.B.”) in the Class of 1960. Some of us continued to call our Mike “M.H.” for years after Mike B. had graduated.



Mike was a seasoned private-school kid (he told me later that he had been thrown out of St. Paul’s, Penn Charter and one other school, and had also withdrawn from Lenox, before he arrived at Darrow, which he’d viewed as his “last chance.”) Mike knew how to blend in, and he impressed me as an outwardly respectful and obedient young man, with a rebellious streak and a snide sense of humor but also a good sense of when to keep them under wraps. He took part in all the aspects of Darrow life, without standing out notably in any of them. He was an OK student, reliably in the top half of the class, but Gorday and Groth never exactly heard his footsteps behind them. He was a decent soccer player and worked his way up from the B Squad as a freshman to the varsity (right photo) as a senior. He dabbled in several other sports, playing hockey and tennis as a freshman, wrestling (left photo) his sophomore year (we were chronically in need of lightweight wrestlers, and Mike weighed about 115, so he got recruited by CDB). As a senior he played JV lacrosse. He didn’t star in any sport, but he enjoyed the variety. We learned later on that his athletic dream—and true calling—was to be a jockey. (Mike and Dave Griswold may have been the only two members of our class who had careers, even briefly, as sports professionals.)

Mike also had eclectic tastes in extracurricular activities. He wasn’t into resume-polishing, didn’t appear to be a joiner or a social type, wasn’t especially talented in music, drama, art, carpentry, photography, science, or any of the various other things we had clubs for and seminars about.  He seems to have joined several activities for one year, then moved on to something else. As a sophomore, he was on the Chapel Committee. Junior year, he worked in the Milk Bar (right photo). He sang in the choir/glee club junior and senior years, and took part in the Current Events Club (left photo) and the Art Club when we were seniors.      

I have several clear memories of Mike from our Darrow days. One is a canonical sports memory: I played B squad and JV soccer all four years, a very undistinguished career at right forward. I remember scoring only one goal during that whole span. It was an away game against Hoosac, a beautiful warm October day. Mike was my left wing, he fed me a perfect crossing pass right in front of the goal, and I punched it in. That’s the sort of memory that sticks with you. I also recall one amusing incident in English class; Mr. Bethards was bored and acting up, and deliberately mispronounced the word “misled.” Mike was reading a sentence aloud in a punctuation exercise, and when he said, correctly, “miss-led,” Bethards burst out “MY-zelled, the word is pronounced MY-zelled.” (The whole story is recounted in more detail in the memorial for Bethards.) When I spoke with Mike about it years later, he had no memory of this event, although I could relive it as if it happened yesterday. Ain’t it odd how our memories work.

Another memorable encounter I had with Mike happened off campus. The summer after our junior year, Mike invited Joe Coffee, Frank Rosenberg and me to visit him at his family’s home in Plymouth Meeting, PA, outside of Philadelphia. Once we were there, having been welcomed by Mike’s mother (I don’t recall ever meeting his father), we all piled into Mike’s car, an old black Renault Dauphine, for a trip into the city. We passed a road sign that prompted Mike to comment that Intercourse (PA) was too far to go, but we could get to Blue Ball if we didn’t mind a detour. We took a pass, but thought he was pretty clever (what can I say, we were teenaged boys and apparently easily amused). In the city, we were stopped at a traffic light, and an elderly woman was inching her way across the crosswalk in front of us when the light changed. Mike let the car creep forward, muttering something like “Let’s see how fast I can make her hobble.” Accelerate she did, a worried frown on her wizened face. Cruel, but as noted, we were easily amused. Vehicular manslaughter was avoided, we had some kind of dinner and hung out for a while in downtown Philly, and eventually found ourselves back at the Terry estate in Plymouth Meeting. The parents were not home. Soon, the liquor cabinet was unlocked.

At that point, I made a strategic error. When someone asked, I admitted that I had never gotten drunk. The boys had a project: Get Ned drunk. They found a very large glass. Mike rummaged through the booze collection, trying to decide what to give me. “How about a little of everything?” offered the always-helpful Joe. So, Mike handed Frank a bottle of rum, and Frank poured a shot into that very large glass. A bottle of bourbon, a shot in the VLG. Followed by scotch, vodka, gin, Southern Comfort, vermouth, all into the VLG. Then Frank sat on me while Joe (still in helpful mode) held the glass and instructed me to drink. Soon I was drunk enough. I am proud of two things: I didn’t throw up, and I didn’t pass out. By the wee hours of the morning, we were all definitely drunk. When Mike suggested that we go out to the pasture and kiss the horses goodnight, it made perfect sense to everyone. So that’s what we did. The horses survived the experience, and we staggered back into the house to sleep it off.

Back on campus that fall, we settled into our privileged status as seniors, and began focusing on college and the possibilities of life after Darrow. Mike had adventures during senior year that he told us about only years later. Given what you’ll read below, I’m not entirely sure this is true, but as Mike told it, here’s what happened: After Mr. Heyniger died, Mike was less enthusiastic about his schoolwork, and he often used to sneak off campus. He had a girlfriend in Pittsfield, and he was friendly with some trainers at Berkshire Downs, who would let him come by around dawn and give some of their horses an early morning workout. One day in May of 1962, Mike took an extra horse around the track and missed his ride back to New Lebanon. So he had to hitchhike back, got back after the day had begun, and got caught trying to sneak back in. He found himself sitting in John Joline’s office later that morning, certain that he was going to be thrown out, two weeks before graduation. His parents arrived, and they conferred, then Mike was asked to wait outside while his father, “The General” as Mike called him (he was a military man), and John Joline talked some more. A deal was struck; Mike could remain in school and get his diploma, but he was not allowed to participate in commencement (they mailed it to him). When he told me the story in 2007, Mike professed to have no idea what his father did or said to John Joline that kept him from being thrown out; he had never asked his Dad when he had the chance.

A few months later, at an alumni gathering before the Yale-Princeton game in Princeton, I ran into John Joline, told him the story, and asked him what had happened, explaining that Mike was curious to know, after all these years. John said he frankly had no recollection at all of any such incident involving Mike, but he speculated that, based on my account, he’d have been impressed by the young man’s entrepreneurial spirit and inclined to go pretty easy on him. I thought it a little odd that John didn’t remember almost throwing Mike out, but wrote it off to the fallibility of our memories (John was then 82). More recently, I did a Google search for Berkshire Downs, and learned that there was indeed a track by that name, in western Massachusetts, in the 1960s, although it went bankrupt in 1965. So maybe Mike’s story really happened, or maybe it just made a great story, something that might have happened or should have happened, as Mike looked back on his life and perhaps re-invented himself a little here and there.

I alert you to that possibility because, from graduation day on, we had relatively little contact with Mike, and what we know of his life is pretty much what he told us. A lot of it makes a damn good story. But certain parts of the story appear not to be true, according to Mike’s brother Jim, who should know better than most people. So as you read on, you may want to take some things with a grain of salt. For whatever reason, maybe just to keep things interesting and exercise his imagination, Mike may have made a few things up.

In 1963, when we were  both in college, I did get a letter from Mike. It’s undated, but appears to be written in the spring of our freshman years. The letter bears a New Orleans return address, and in it Mike says it was lucky I addressed my letter to M.H. Terry, because there was another Mike Terry at Tulane, believe it or not, M.B. Terry, from North Carolina. He described college life as “great” but “all work and no play” and reported that he had worked so hard first semester that he managed to flunk two subjects. He said being in N.O. was not especially conducive to study but that Bourbon Street was “the most overrated place on earth.” That same spring, the Peg Board reported more tamely that Mike was at Tulane and was “enjoying it very much.”

We then didn’t hear from each other until 1969, when I was writing the second Class Newsletter. I got a letter from Mike, who was then living and working at Lincoln Downs, in Pawtucket, RI.  He wrote that after he left Tulane he had gone to Europe for a while, and after returning to the US, had gone to work with race horses. He rode a few jumpers for a few years “until I got my fill of broken bones,” then became an assistant trainer. He reported that in 1967, he had developed a filly, Cocky Miss, who was voted one of the top 10 two-year-olds that year. He sold her and went into business on his own as a trainer. He had six horses stabled at Lincoln Downs and four more down in Pennsylvania. He said he wasn’t married yet, but he did come close once. Mike told me in the same letter that he was disillusioned with Darrow, felt it had become “just another college-preparatory school” under John Joline, and that this sense of alienation had contributed to his disinclination to keep in touch. On the other hand, he suggested that if his letter arrived too late for the current edition, I should save it for the next one, because “To get me and a pen together in a writing mood is something special.”

A year or so later, Mike didn’t respond to my request for news for the the newsletter, but he did tell the Peg Board that he and his wife Ann both trained thoroughbreds, and they were working at Narragansett Park, near Providence. (We’ll learn more about Ann when we catch up with Mike again later, below.) In 1972, we read in the Peg Board that Mike (no mention of Ann) was returning to college, hoping to become a veterinarian, and was now living in Hialeah, FL.

We (and the school) then lost touch completely with Mike for a long time. In 1979, during a Darrow telethon, I spoke with his mother, who said he was living in New Orleans again, but could not provide an address or a phone number. The only subsequent mention of Mike in the class newsletter was in 1994, when Bob Lang said he had tracked Mike down at the Calder race track in Kendall, FL; but again, we had no address nor any direct news from Mike. By 1995, he was listed as “lost;” his father had died and his mother had moved, so calling her didn’t work any more. On subsequent trips to Florida, Lang checked out every race track he could find (strictly on Class business, of course) but reported that Mike had not been seen at any of his former haunts “for several years.” Internet searches turned up only dead-end leads.

In 1998, an internet search found an obituary for Elena Howell Terry (Howell is Mike’s middle name). I learned from her death notice that Mike’s mother (and thus Mike) was “a direct descendant of one of the founding families of South Hampton, LI, NY,” that she had been National Chairman (sic) of the Horticultural Committee of the Garden Club of America, and that she was survived by three sons: Wyllys III, James T., and Michael H., the latter said to be living in Fort Lauderdale. Back to the internet. But the addresses and phone numbers I found for Mike in Fort Lauderdale were no longer valid, and I failed to find him in the run-up to our 40th.

In the next cycle, organizing our 45th in early 2007, I widened my search, found Mike’s brother Jim in Maryland, and his phone number worked. Soon I was talking with Jim, who gave me a new address and two current phone numbers for Mike, and a bit of an update: Mike had been banged up by a horse, was now disabled, could no longer work as a trainer, but he had come to a family wedding not long ago and really enjoyed himself. Jim thought Mike might be up for the reunion and urged me to pursue it with him.


I left a couple of voice-mail messages for Mike, and a few days later, he called me. He admitted to being computer illiterate—had neither internet access nor e-mail—but said he definitely would come to the reunion, “I feel it’s time,” as he put it. He gave us a brief update on his life, which we posted on the class web site (scroll down toward the bottom). Over the next two months or so, we worked out a plan:  Mike would fly into LaGuardia, the Thursday before the reunion;  I’d meet him there; he’d stay overnight at our house; we’d drive up on Friday. We had no rooms left at the Inn, but Ingram found Mike a place at the B&B across the street, the Hitchcock House. At the end of the weekend, we’d reverse the process. And that’s how it worked. Even after 45 years, we recognized each other easily at the airport.



At the reunion, Mike was greeted as and felt like a long-lost prodigal brother. He had a great time. He spoke up during the open mike session on Friday night, reminiscing about the Heyniger years and stating his gratitude to Darrow and The Boss for giving him a chance to succeed. The photos above were all taken that weekend.

During the five hours or so Mike and I spent driving to and from the reunion, he filled me in on a lot of the “back story” of his life. Since I was driving and not able to take notes, I wrote down what I recalled of what he had told me a couple of hours later. It’s possible I misremembered or forgot a few things. It’s also possible that Mike blended in some fiction here and there to liven up the facts. I asked his brother Jim to fact-check, and some parts of Mike’s story can’t be verified. But does that mean they aren’t true? Was Mike pulling our legs, or embellishing his own history? Now that we can’t ask him, we may never know.  In any case, here’s the story.

Mike told me he dropped out of Tulane during his sophomore year. He said he had been living off-campus with a girlfriend who danced on Bourbon Street, and again mentioned how easy it was to be distracted from his studies there. After leaving Tulane, he went to California, earned some money, made his avocation his vocation and began working as a horse trainer and jockey. Said he led a nomadic existence over the next 20 years or so, living in Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey and Rhode Island, as well as Ireland, Spain and several other European countries, and South America. Eventually he ended up in Florida, where he remained for the rest of his life. At the time of that reunion, he was living in Yankeetown, on the Gulf Coast, “out in the sticks,” with ‘gators and manatees in the river, sharing his home with several dogs he had rescued.

Mike said he’d trained horses for Johnny Unitas and Diana Ross, among others. Said he’d won the Fountain of Youth Stakes with one of Unitas’s horses, and had one horse, King Celebrity, that finished third to Spectacular Bid in the Kentucky Derby. (Officially, the horse finished 4th; 3rd makes a better story.) Said he knew Bill Marriott, and had a cousin who’d married leadership coach Randi Buckley. Mike told me about his marriage to Ann (maiden name Bayley, Jim says). They met at a track in Providence; she was 22 years older, from Middleburg, VA (horse country, for those not from those parts), and I think Mike said she was an heiress to a Procter and Gamble fortune. Ann had two kids from a previous marriage; Mike was her third husband. The marriage lasted only a few years—too many stresses from living and working with the same person all day every day, Mike explained—but after they split up, Mike said they had remained friends, until her death about 15 years ago, even though the marriage had not ended well.

Mike told me he had three grown children of his own, from a long-term relationship with a woman named Katy, whom he lived with but never married. He said Katy had died of a drug overdose when the kids were 3 and 1, and that he and Ann had raised his kids and hers together. He said Ann had kept all the kids when they got divorced, which was better for the kids, and that he was long estranged from his children. But he said with some pride that his son, Sean, who was 30 (in 2007), lived in Germany, where he was an electronics technician and worked with rock bands and theatrical productions. His daughter, Heather, 28 in 2007, Mike said, was a chemical engineer, had earned degrees from Penn State and Johns Hopkins, and worked for Norwich Pharmaceutical in Connecticut. He mentioned another son, Jim, but either said nothing more about him, or I failed to recall and record what he said.

But, here’s a reality check: Mike’s brother Jim told me that although Mike had sometimes said he’d had children, he and the rest of the family had never met, nor ever been able to find any documents proving the existence of, either Sean or Heather. Jim said that the other “son”—Jim, who lived with Mike in Florida and helped take care of his needs—was not actually Mike’s child; he was, like Mike’s dogs, someone Mike had taken in off the streets, sheltered, had around for companionship, and tried to help straighten out his life. And, if we examine Mike’s story with a critical eye, it doesn’t hold water. The Peg Board noted that Mike and Ann were married and living in Rhode island as of spring, 1970. If Sean and Heather were 3 and 1 when Katy died, and presumably older than that when Mike and Ann were married, they would have been born in the 1960s, and been a decade or so older than Mike said they were in 2007.

We do know that Mike was definitely married to Ann (Jim and his wife attended the wedding, in York Harbor, ME, and says it was a very pleasant occasion), and while Mike may treat Jim like a son, we know they are not related. But we can’t verify that Sean, Heather, or for that matter, Katy, really existed. Mike may have created a fictional family, to add an element of “normalcy” to his life history that he might have felt, for one reason or another, it needed. 

Somewhere in that long car trip, Mike talked about other aspects of his life. He said he didn’t have any financial problems. He’d made a lot of money and blown a lot of it at various times in his life, but he’d also invested some of it and had done pretty well. He said matter-of-factly that he’d had serious problems with both alcohol and drugs most of his life. He said he’d done some crazy things when drunk or high, and told me a harrowing story about a time when he was in debt to a drug dealer in New Orleans, so he’d agreed to be a mule. He was sent to Mexico to pick up a large drug shipment and bring it back to the US. He described meeting with Mexican drug lords, being given an old car with every recess packed with drugs, and driving, in sheer terror, back to New Orleans. If he’d been stopped by the cops or the border patrol, it could have meant years in prison; if he’d screwed up, it could have meant death. Mike said that day in 2007 that he’d been sober for two years, was a regular attendee at AA meetings, and spent some of his time speaking to youthful offenders for AA, trying to convince them that they’re not immortal.

Mike talked a little about his father, “The General” (Wyllys Terry, Jr.) was actually a colonel in the 101st cavalry during WW II, then had a long career in the insurance business. Mike said he was a strict, controlling parent, absent much of the time when Mike was growing up, and that he’d never forgiven Mike for his youthful rebellions. Mike also told me how he’d managed to stay out of the Army during the Vietnam war, when dropping out of college led swiftly to being reclassified I-A. He said he’d been ordered to report for induction, and had starved himself for two days before he was to report, then ate six chocolate bars and drank a six-pack of Coke on the bus to the induction center. He said the combination of no food and all that caffeine gave him an irregular heartbeat, and he flunked the physical. I got the impression that he didn’t invent this stratagem, but learned it from someone; in any case, as he tells the story, it worked.

Mike also spoke freely about his health. He said he’d had 27 broken bones, including 9 skull fractures, in his long riding career, had cancer twice (stomach & colon), had two heart attacks, had a hip replaced, had had “last rites” administered to him four times. As a result of the hip, he was disabled and unable to work, and he also acknowledged that his years of drinking and drugs had surely not done his body any good. He said he had recurring blackouts, and had a companion who lived with him now (that would be Jim) to assist on those occasions when he needed it. But he was philosophical about it; said he’d made a lot of choices he regretted, but since none of that could be changed, he was content to play the hand he’d been dealt.

To be honest, Mike looked pretty frail when we saw him in 2007, and although he said he felt good, all things considered, if we’d set up a pool on who we thought was least likely to make it to the 50th, Mike probably would have won by several lengths. When I was driving him back to the airport on Monday after the reunion, Mike said he had been told there was a lesion on his liver, but it had not been diagnosed yet;  he had an appointment to see an oncologist when he got home. The omens were fairly grim.

A week or so after the reunion, I wrote up my notes from our conversations and snail-mailed them to Mike (no e-mail, remember), asking him to check them for accuracy. I reached him by phone about six months later, and he said it was fine to post my write-up. That account is quite similar to parts of this one, though less skeptical. I asked Mike to tell me more of his life and to send me some photos, since I expected eventually to write this memorial, and we had nothing to document a span of almost 40 years. He promised he’d do that, but of course he never did. He also said he was going to get a computer and learn to use e-mail, but that didn’t happen either.

However, there was some good news, back in early 2008. The liver problem that was worrying him during our 45th reunion had turned out to be nothing too serious; he was having a reaction to the combination of medications he had been taking at the time. That had been straightened out, and when I spoke with Mike then, he said he was feeling fine.

Mike and I spoke briefly once or twice in the next couple of years, but my next (and last, as it turned out) long conversation with him was last October, when I was starting to organize our 50th reunion. He gave me an account of a recent string of disasters in his life. First, his house burned to the ground, and he lost everything—family heirlooms, even his dogs had not managed to get out alive. He complained that the insurance was taking forever. Three weeks after the fire, he said he was driving his pick-up truck and got into a wreck; he was ejected from the vehicle, although he swore he was wearing his seat-belt. He landed on his head, for the umpteenth time, and spent several weeks in the hospital, the first couple in a coma. He said once he woke up he “kind of came unglued” over these misfortunes, but was gradually getting back to normal.

Mike said he was coming to the reunion—he wouldn’t miss it. He reserved a room at the Inn, and said he’d be bringing his son (sic), Jim, with him. He described Jim this time, said he was 47 “and still not flying on his own.” Jim has a serious speech impediment, he barely communicates; Mike said most people therefore assume that he’s stupid, but he’s far from it. Jim has been chronically unemployed, because of his disability. Mike said having Jim living with him at this point was a real blessing.

Of course I was delighted to hear that Mike would be at the reunion, and he sounded pretty good on the phone—especially considering what he’d recently been through. He said he was planning to drive up for the event, take a vacation, stop along the way to see Jim and Dee in Maryland. He gave us his new address (still in Yankeetown) and new phone numbers.

But of course, all that was not to be. In April, I was checking in with everyone who’d said they were coming to the 50th, and couldn’t reach Mike. I asked Towner to try, since he was there in Florida, and I thought maybe if Mike needed a ride, Towner could offer one. Towner also couldn’t get an answer at Mike’s numbers, so I suggested he call brother Jim. Towner did, and learned that Mike had passed away. Jim called me later the same day, with more details.

Mike departed this world on January 17, 2012. There was no specific known cause of death, just the cumulative impact of all the insults his body had borne over the years. Jim confirmed some of the details of Mike’s history, related above, but also called some of them into question, so I have run a draft of this by him for fact-checking. Jim said that Mike’s Florida housemate, Jim, was in jail when Mike died—he’d been driving drunk without a license—and in fact, he was still in jail in April. What will happen to Jim with Mike gone is not clear.

In the course of preparing this memorial, I also learned from Jim that Mike was an excellent sailor. As a young man, he went to Camp Robin Hood in Bucks Harbor, ME, where he learned to sail. Sometime in the early 1980s, Jim and Dee needed to sail their old wooden yawl from Essex, CT to Cambridge, MD where they were taking it to a boat repair shop. Mike joined them for the trip. When they were offshore, off NYC, they encountered a storm that snapped the mast. Naturally it happened in the middle of the night, on Mike’s watch. Jim says Mike didn’t get excited, they were able to secure the mast and made it back to Essex. It was a disaster at the time, but made a good story when they got it in perspective.


Given Mike’s extensive experience with disasters, that story seems totally in character. While his saga has come to its inevitable sad ending, and may have felt like a serial train wreck as he was living it, I’ll adopt Mike’s own attitude towards his luck and the choices he made. He often followed his rebellious instincts, and sometimes that cost him. He recognized in retrospect that some of his choices had served him badly, but life doesn’t give us a do-over, so he paid his dues and moved on with what seemed to be a clear conscience. He led a good life, overall; he had genuine success in his chosen calling, which he loved; when we last saw him he seemed truly happy. His bad decisions mostly hurt himself, and he clearly helped many others (e.g., taking in Jim, speaking to youth for AA). He died with a clear mind, looking forward to celebrating our 50th with his Darrow class. And he left us a few mysteries, to amuse and confuse us when we think of him, which we will often do. RIP, Mike. Wherever you are now, may the horses seldom stumble and your landings be on softest turf.  




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