College Mourns Passing of William Holt Terry ’54, 1932-2015

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William Holt “Will” Terry ’54 Memorial Service – May 2, 2015

College Mourns Passing of William Holt Terry ’54, 1932-2015
William Holt “Will” Terry ’54

William Holt Terry was born on July 25, 1932, in Erwin, North Carolina; he died at his apartment at the Pines at Davidson on March 27, 2015. His father, William Samuel Terry, Jr., died before Will was born, and his mother, Laura Elizabeth Holt Terry, a beloved public school teacher in Durham, reared her son with courage and devotion and faith. Surrounded by loving aunts, uncles, and cousins—one of whom remembers him today as the cutest little rascal she has ever known—Will spent his boyhood on a farm in Durham County off Guess Road.

After Will graduated from Durham High School in 1950, his mother’s first dream for him came true when he matriculated at Davidson College, the place which, from his first day on campus to the end of his life, was his heart’s home.

As a Davidson student, Will was a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon social fraternity, the Eumenean Literary Society of which he was President, and Tau Kappa Alpha, national honorary forensic society. Other student activities—including membership on the honorary fraternity council and the editorial staff of the college annual—resulted in his being elected to Omicron Delta Kappa and “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities” during his senior year. But more important than his extracurricular activities was the fact that at Davidson, Will acquired lifelong friends, developed intellectual curiosity, honed his keen sense of humor, and found his childhood faith deepening. It was after he joined the Davidson College Presbyterian Church that Will heard and answered the call to become a minister.


After he received his B. S. degree from Davidson College in 1954, Will began graduate studies at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. During seminary, he spent an intern year as General Secretary of the Davidson College YMCA. The Davidson “Y” was the center of campus activities and religious life on campus, and the young Y secretary discovered his extraordinary gift for working with college students, guiding them, encouraging them, enjoying their antics, and helping them grow toward manhood.

Will returned to Union, completed his B. D. degree in 1958, and then accepted a call to Acme Presbyterian Church in Riegelwood, NC, where he served as minister for four years. He often commented on how happy those days were, how much he learned from the members of his first church, and how many close friends he made there.

But when President D. Grier Martin offered Will the chance to “come home again” to Davidson as College Chaplain, he leapt at the chance and was chaplain for four years.   After serving as Senior Minister of the Davidson College Presbyterian Church from 1966 until 1971, Will was once again lured back to his alma mater by the college president, Dr. Samuel R. Spencer, to become Dean of Students and later Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students. During Will’s years as chaplain and minister of D.C.P.C., his home had been the refuge for hundreds of students who dropped by for counseling in the study or for breakfast in the dining room or for his approval of their dates on dance weekends. Why, Dr. Spencer asked Will, shouldn’t he assume the role he was born to? So he did, and as their dean, he served students as mentor, counselor, advisor, occasionally disciplinarian, and friend until his retirement in 1994. A favorite quip was that he worked in the administrations of five Davidson College presidents, and they all survived.

Dean Terry returned to Union Theological Seminary during several summers and for short leaves to pursue the D. Min. degree which he received in 1985. Throughout his career, he also served the Presbyterian Church on many committees, for instance as Chairman of the Executive Committee, Campus Christian Life, Synod of North Carolina, and as Chairman of the Commission on the Minister and his Work, Concord Presbytery. Following retirement, Dr. Terry served several Presbyterian churches in North Carolina as Interim Minister, among them Sedgefield Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, First Presbyterian Church in Lincolnton, First Presbyterian Church in Lenoir, First Presbyterian Church in Concord, Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, as well as First (Scots) Presbyterian Church in Charleston, SC. On two occasions, Will was the Theologian in Residence—at White Memorial Presbyterian Church in Raleigh and at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte.

Will’s civic contributions included many years on the board of Planned Parenthood of Charlotte and life-long participation in the Democratic Party.

At his retirement, Will was honored by Davidson College when he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1994 and had a leadership scholarship created and named in his honor—The William Holt Terry Scholarship. Will called the scholarship his most significant legacy. All who know him recognize that what he meant by legacy was not the named scholarship itself but the students who won the scholarship and, as a result, were able to come to Davidson and receive a strong liberal arts education rooted in the Reformed Tradition. And what a legacy worthy of his name it is: eighty Terry scholars and fellows who have been mentored by “D.T.,” welcomed to his house for home cooked meals, and inspired by him. The legacy continues with the countless young folks who will be “Terrys” in the future and who will go on to emulate Will’s life of service and leadership.

Predeceased by his parents and several uncles, aunts, and cousins on whom he doted, Will Terry leaves behind current and former students, former parishioners, respectful colleagues, devoted Holt and Terry cousins, loving caregivers, and literally hundreds of close friends, all grateful for his love and life. We will miss his Egg Nog parties, conversations around the dinner table, tales regaled on the porch, couples counseling before weddings, baptisms of children, Davidson reunion gatherings on the deck, Thelemite Christmas parties around the fire, tomatoes and corn from his gardens, discussions in his study after Davidson Trustee meetings, loud cheers at Wildcat games, a little gin or bourbon after a particularly challenging day at the office, Thanksgiving dinners, the Sunday School lessons and inspiring sermons, his visits to our homes, his masterful and comforting prayers at funerals, his incisive wit, sharp mind, the tears and the laughter. Simply, we will miss Will.

[note_box]On May 2, 2015, at 1 p. m, we will celebrate Will’s life and his faith during the Witness to the Resurrection service at Davidson College Presbyterian Church. A reception will follow in the Lilly Family Gallery at the college. Will would appreciate that memorials be made to the William Holt Terry Scholarship at Davidson College, Box 7173, Davidson, NC 28035.[/note_box]

13 Replies to “College Mourns Passing of William Holt Terry ’54, 1932-2015”

  1. Can you not hear, all the Bell ringing, Angels shouting, Ancestors Praising God as I try to keep from crying as Heaven WELCOMES our newest Ancestor, Will Terry. My heart is broken but my Spirit is rejoicing. I Thank God for allowing me to know, “to see”, and to have had the time I did with this very special man of God. Of All the things Will did on Earth in my heart he will always be remembered for being one of the BEST human expressions of God on Earth. RIP my beloved father, brother, colleague, and friend.

    Peace and love always,

    Rev. Brenda H. Tapia
    Retired Chaplain, Asst. Chaplain, Co-Creator/ Director
    Love of Learning

    1. Will, you have made your crossing.Thanks be to God. Today is your finest hour. I can see you as you approached the gates of heaven singing “I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art.” You must have said ” Hello, I’m Will Terry from Davidson.” You needed no introduction. There were those waiting there happily exclaiming, “Here he comes!” We are grieving because you are gone from our sight but never from our hearts. We held you close as long as we could but the time has come to let you go into the Church Triumphant. And so with grateful hearts, we do. Your baptism is complete now. You must be lost in wonder, love and praise. God grant that we might live as you taught us so that we may join you some day.

      With grateful love,

      Peggy Graham Buckner
      Retired teacher and Director of Music
      Lincolnton Presbyterian Church

  2. Will Terry is one of the finest men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. I had the privilege of his leadership and friendship during my time at Davidson from 1964 to 1968 when he was chaplain and pastor. He was always available and willing to talk when a good listening ear was required, and was also known to seek one out for a little conversation when he detected a student might be having some difficulty on whatever level. Just knowing he cared was often enough to set the student back on course. He certainly touched my life on many levels and I know I was only one of many. God has welcomed you to eternal worship in His presence and I look forward to seeing you there, Will.

  3. He was the best! The quintessential Davidsonian. Iconic. Legendary. The man you hoped to become in the future. He also drank us poor after officiating my wedding. Classic!

  4. What a warm and wonderful personality. He was a true “Davidson gentleman” Will Terry had a way of making you feel as if you were the most interesting person in the room. How many lives he must have touched through his work at Davidson. Rest in peace friend!

  5. Will lived life with zest, sharing his love with more men and women than anyone I have known. He cared passionately for those who lived life the same way, full of laughter, unafraid of tears, willing to stand up for what they believed. He was the least sanctimonious preacher I have ever known, a man who practiced his beliefs more than spoke about them. He made those he loved, and counseled and encouraged, through thick and thin, better for the moments they shared with him, which were never enough. Oh how I miss him, but even more celebrate his life.

  6. Will Terry taught me how to make biscuits — in his kitchen at home, across the street from campus. Part of my job on the College Union Board was to organize the annual Short Courses (non-credited classes offered by members of the Davidson community, for students to take for fun); and the most popular Short Course was Will Terry’s “Southern Cooking,” which was limited (by the size of his kitchen) to a half-dozen students. Since I had an inside role as organizer, I tried to sign up me and my friends — only to find out there was a waiting list! I did manage to get us all signed up the next year, however, and we learned to make biscuits and other Southern delicacies under Will’s hands-on guidance, peppered with wit and graciously administered with glasses of wine. I think of Will every time I make biscuits, and I give thanks for attending a college where my dean taught me how to make what for me is manna from heaven.

  7. Everything Peggy Buckner wrote is true. Will invited the members of First Presbyterian Church Lincolnton, for refreshments after Vespers at Davidson each year. This was the beginning of our holiday spirit. He sat by my side for hours while my husband was having a serious surgery at CMC Main because our minister was out of town. He stopped by each evening for a visit on his way home from Lincolnton First Presbyterian Church to check on us. He helped my husband realize that religion can be fun. I hope the two of them have found each other in Heaven to talk over old times. Thanks, Will

  8. I have kept all of his sermons. The favorite is What was Jesus, To People, and Jesus Loved a Party!

  9. On Learning of Will’s Departure

    This chapter closes with a beginning, not an end; and still
    we miss the one we knew as Will.

    So many beginnings we came to know
    when Will pointed out wrinkles of thought we knew, or thought so.

    This chapter closes with no end,
    But only as we knew it to be: Will far up ahead faithful to our very end.

    A tribute to Will Terry ’54 from the Class of 1975

  10. While Will Terry made every class at Davidson feel special during his tenure as Dean of Students, we in the Class of ’73 felt a unique bond with Will, first as College Chaplain and then as Dean of Students. There are countless examples of his thoughtful impact on our lives, but perhaps none more important than making each of us feel that we mattered and could, in our own way, make a positive difference in the world. One great example was his selection and training of the team of Hall Counselors who shepherded in the Class of ’75. Not only did we form lasting friendships within the team, we were confident in our ability to help our freshmen have the best possible start at Davidson. On a more personal note, my wife, Ann, and I went to Will for marriage counseling in the fall of 1972. Nearly 43 years later, we remain very thankful for Will’s words of encouragement. Will, we will all miss you.

  11. Although I didn’t graduate from Davidson, my 2 years there were wonderful and fun and touched by Dean Terry. Being a military brat without hard dates of my Dad visiting from Germany, he let my Dad stay with him for Paren’t weekend. When my freshman dorm (4th Watts) had a sleepover at Basement Richardson, Dean Terry participated in using that to play a prank on one of the Hall Counselors for their birthday (he thought he was in trouble for allowing it to happen!). There was definitely a “twinkle” in Dean Terry’s eyes when asked to participate in the ruse.

    As much as we who knew him (for even a short time) will miss him, I feel even worse for the students who didn’t/won’t get to know him! You all missed a great one!

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