Teacher Bob Terry’s military life is a family tradition

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 10, 2013

How do you describe someone like Bob Terry? For those who know him, the first word that comes to mind might be teacher, but like peeling an onion, underneath the surface there are always more layers to be revealed.
Born into a military family in Connecticut, when Bob was 6 years old, his father (James Terry) was transferred to a Naval base in Hawaii. By the time Bob was a junior in high school, his family moved four more times. These moves usually meant five kids in the family station wagon traveling with Mom across the continental USA, while Dad went on ahead. Bob said, “I don’t know how Mom did it, but she did. Oddly enough, our car never broke down.”
After a tour in Vietnam, Bob’s dad was given the liberty to choose his next tour of duty and chose Guam. By now a senior in high school, little did Bob know he would meet his future wife at George Washington High School in Guam, but that’s exactly what happened. Beverly Bolick, a junior attending the same high school as Bob was there because her dad was also stationed on the island.
Knowing the only way he could go to college was on a scholarship, Bob took the last available ROTC scholarship at Ole Miss. Leaving Guam with nothing but a suitcase, he arrived on the Ole Miss campus scared and alone. Like in the movies, walking up to the administration building with his suitcase, he stopped in his tracks, looked up at the building and thought, “What in the world am I doing here?”
Even though he felt alone and scared, as soon as he began to make new friends, he knew he had made the right decision. When Beverly joined him the next year as a freshman, he was even more sure of that decision. After graduation three years later, but before starting his military career in California, he and Beverly were married. Finishing her senior year at Ole Miss, Beverly stayed behind.
Just as Bob’s dad had traveled the world as a Navy man, so Bob would, too. What’s truly amazing is not only did Bob’s dad serve in the Navy, but so did his three brothers and father-in-law (John Bolick). Little did Bob realize one day his own son, David, would follow in that tradition, becoming a Navy helicopter pilot. David is presently a Lieutenant serving in Coronado, California.
Thinking back to those early years, Bob said three years into his Navy career he began a tour on a guided missile destroyer. Not liking ships, when the opportunity came to work in Explosive Ordinance Disposal, he signed up for that position. Having the duty to render safe all conventional, nuclear and chemical weapons on land, air and sea, he trained as a diver and parachutist. Even though this position has similarities to that of a Navy seal, they are not the same.
One of Bob’s more interesting tours happened during Desert Storm. Serving six months with the State Department, he had duties that included anti-terrorist detail, safeguarding embassies in places like Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
When asked what he liked most about living in the Middle East, without hesitation, he answered, “The food.”
What bothered him the most was the poverty. Heartbreaking to see, it made him appreciate even more the freedoms and blessings of life in America.
Planning to retire from the military after twenty years, it was during his tour in the Middle East that Bob began to seriously think about another career. As a student at Ole Miss he had studied criminology, thinking he might be a lawyer, but twenty years later, with his travels, experience and love of kids, his desire was to make a difference as a teacher. So, going back to school, mostly at night, he earned his masters degree.
After graduation and retirement, Bob, along with Beverly, taking into consideration the needs of their two growing children, Katie, 8, and David, 11, made the decision where to live. Spending most of his adolescence in Florida, loving the beaches and warm weather, Bob wanted to move there.
Beverly’s choice was to move closer to her parents in Salisbury. In the end, Beverly won and in retrospect Bob was glad she did.
Interviewing for a 5th grade position at Cleveland Elementary School, Bob was hired by then principal, Max Gibbons, in mid-July, 1994.
With only a few weeks to prepare, he hit the ground running. At first saying he loved every minute of it, he then said, “Well, almost every minute of it.”
Betty Massey, the other 5th grade teacher that year, brought into the classroom years of experience not only in fifth grade, but other grades as well. She said, with a slight smile, “When Bob first started, he had this idealized notion he could change the world, but over time came to realize he couldn’t change the world, but could change one kid at a time.”
Bob laughed and said, “Yeah, that first year was tough. Betty and I had many late night conversations over the phone. Not only did she help me plan, but she helped me have realistic expectations of my students.” Twenty years later, as they say, the rest is history because Bob and Betty have taught 5th grade in adjoining rooms ever since.
Although Bob traveled the world and could have chosen anywhere to live, we’re glad his travels eventually brought him to a fifth grade classroom in Cleveland, NC. If his students didn’t understand the sacrifices he made and the distance he traveled to become their teacher, then hopefully, they do now.
Sharing his thoughts about the military, Bob said, “I would highly encourage any young person to try the military whether it be in the officer ranks or the enlisted. Even if they don’t like it, they would be setting themselves up for life with all the training and educational opportunities available”
A person who serves in the military doesn’t stop serving just because they take off their uniform. Like Bob, wanting to make a difference, they often take a job in a service-oriented field such as a teacher, fireman or policeman.
It’s unfortunate many come home unable to work because of injuries incurred while in service. To them, and to all Veterans everywhere we say thank you because you are living proof that freedom isn’t free.
This week’s column highlighted Mr. Terry’s military career.
Next week’s will highlight his teaching career, with students (past and present) sharing how he has made a difference in their lives.