by Mike Anglin
Terry Tebedo was born December 5, 1949, in Michigan, and lived there until his early 20s. In the mid-1970s he moved to Houston, Texas, working odd jobs in remodeling homes and refinishing floors. It was in about 1977 that he met a young, charismatic Dallas man named Bill Nelson. From that point forward the two of them would be inseparable.
I first met Terry in 1979 when he and Bill moved to Dallas and began their participation in the local gay community by rousing interest in the upcoming 1979 March On Washington. They both appeared before the executive committee of the Dallas Gay Political Caucus and presented us with a compelling case that this upcoming rally in D.C. was one event the DGPC should take on as a priority.
Terry and Bill were together as a Dallas gay couple for a total of eleven years, and in those years they made an indelible mark on Dallas’s GLBT history. Bill had become an award-winning teacher at W. T. White High School, but was censured (and ultimately lost his job) when it became known that he was an active supporter of “gay rights.” So, after some encouraging experiences with conducting yard sales, Bill and Terry began selling classic used furniture and antiques from a small brick home they had purchased on Belmont Ave., just west of Greenville Ave. in East Dallas, a business they called “East Dallas Junk Co.” They would import practical, solid wood furniture and antiques from England and France (oak tables, wardrobes, dressers, buffets, etc.) and then sell them to the public. The business grew quickly due to their many connections in the greater gay community of Dallas, and they soon ran out of space to cover the rising demand. So, along with William Waybourn and Craig Spaulding, they opened Crossroads Market … a perfectly located retail store at the corner of Throckmorton and Cedar Springs Blvd. in the Oak Lawn neighborhood of Dallas. This would become not only their main business enterprise, but also a kind of “community center” for GLBT life in Dallas during those years.
Bill was the more “public figure” of the two [becoming president of the Dallas Gay Alliance, joining the board of the Dallas Black Tie Dinner (in 1984) and also becoming a member of, and then president of, the Texas Human Rights Foundation], but Terry was equally well known and respected in the community. Everyone who knew the two of them clearly understood the critical role played by Terry in holding their business together, creating a comfortable home for Bill and himself, and constantly creating new projects, campaigns and causes to be taken up by the Dallas gay community.
With Bill as president of the Dallas Gay Alliance, the two of them became founding board members of the AIDS Resource Center, the pre-cursor to the "Foundation for Human Understanding" (a name coined by Terry), which was incorporated in June 1983. They were also the creative force behind the birth of a new organization called Razzle Dazzle Dallas (chartered in May 1981) and lead its board for several years.
In the Christmas season of 1982, when the AIDS crisis was beginning to hit Dallas, Terry became increasingly aware that some AIDS victims had lost their jobs and were struggling to obtain enough food to survive. He created, at first, a donations box at Crossroads Market and placed signs in the store window urging patrons to bring canned foods and donate them to the ad-hoc collection. The program took off and soon the store had a special shelf installed to contain the food items being constantly brought in by generous customers. The victims of AIDS with limited resources soon learned that this was where they might find direct assistance in getting the nutrition they so desperately needed. As often happens with “ideas whose time has come,” donations soon increased to such an extent that the shelf collection area was no longer sufficient, and an entire “food pantry” had to be created in the rear section of the store, accessible from the rear parking lot. That was the beginning of a community charity still in existence over thirty years later, the AIDS Food Pantry facility of the Resource Center.
When a friend of Terry’s, Richard Schmidt, became very ill and unable to complete a remodeling update of his home, which he and his partner had been working on prior to becoming ill, Terry enlisted William Waybourn and about 20 others to help finish the “re-do” of Schmidt’s house as an AIDS Awareness Week project for the Dallas Gay Alliance. The DGA money for the project soon ran out, and Terry ended up paying for the re-carpeting and new drywall out of his own pocket. He only told Bill about paying for the drywall, because the carpet had been a fairly major expense.
These individual episodes were typical of the way Terry contributed so freely to others. He was the planner, the detailer, the muscle, the maker for so many community events, always doing the background work so others, even his partner Bill, could shine out front, where Terry never particularly wanted to be. It was par for the course that he would do the actual work and then direct the credit to others: fundraisers at the Majestic Theater, the “Full Moon & Margaritas” parties, the “Warehouse” parties, “SOS ’84,” celebrity hosting (when notables came to Dallas and needed a tour guide), the first holiday party for the Dallas Gay Alliance at the Dallas Garden Center, the “War on AIDS Canteen,” even putting together a showing of “Bedtime for Bonzo” in Lee Park during the GOP Convention in Dallas when Ronald Regan was nominated for the presidency. He took responsibility for raising money to educate deaf gay men about AIDS, including getting DGA to install its first teletype machine that would enable deaf gays to communicate directly with the AIDS Resource Center and DGA.
“Terry had an internal clock very different from the rest of us,” said long-time friend and business partner William Waybourn. “In the fall of 1980 when we first decided to open the Crossroads Market, Terry predicted that we would be able to open the store sometime after Christmas, giving us, in his words, plenty of time to get everything ready. Then, just a few days later, he called Craig and me and announced that the store, ready or not, would open in just four days … even without much merchandise. So we opened it on December 5, 1980, his birthday, meeting the demands of his distinctive sense of timing.”
In August 1984 Terry wrote an op-ed article in the periodical This Week in Texas (also known as “TWT”) concerning the fact that the Dallas Police Department was still refusing to hire gay men and women:
“As a representative of the Dallas Gay Alliance and director of its Social Justice Department, I recently had the opportunity to meet with Capt. Squier of the Dallas Police Department on July 17  to discuss some of the concerns Dallas gays have regarding their relationship with the police in our city. Many topics, from crimes against gays to equal treatment and enforcement of the laws, were addressed. What surprised me was the candor with which Capt. Squier addressed the issue of police hiring. Currently, the Dallas Police Department asks, both in the written portion and during the lie detector test, the sexual orientation of applicants. Capt. Squier, who has been helpful and supportive as liaison to Oak Lawn’s gay community, related that, although he was ‘not afraid of it’ [homosexuality] … ‘there are probably those out there that feel it’s contagious.’ Both Capt. Squier and other representatives of the Dallas Police Department agreed that it could be two to ten years before the timing would be right to eliminate such barriers. Even after pointing out to them the anger that Blacks and women would feel if told that their barriers would persist that long, I suspect they still feel justified that the time "is not right." What the city of Dallas and the Dallas Police Department must come to realize soon is that the only time that is not right is the time for legitimized discrimination. When a press representative pointed out that he knew of a gay officer and would like to publish an interview with him, the consensus of those present was that, although there would not be a witch hunt by the city administration, fellow police officers would search out and make life uncomfortable for any gay officer. The City of Dallas and its police department cannot possibly serve all of its citizens fairly and equally when they condone eliminating 10% of its population strictly out of unfounded fears and non-work-related criteria. No, officers of the Dallas Police Department, homosexuality is not contagious. I only hope bigotry isn't."
Life was never easy for cutting-edge leaders of the GLBT community of the 1980s. For example, in 1987 Terry and a friend, Don Dent, decided to visit the Sunday morning worship service of Northwest Bible Church in Dallas. Instead of being welcomed, people started shouting at them to leave. One church member shouted at them: “People like you should be shot and killed!” The two left and vowed never to return.
Such hateful experiences, however, never managed to weaken Terry’s constantly upbeat attitude, irrepressible humor, and his endless showing of love and support for those in need of help.
“I think Terry grew up without the love he desperately wanted,” observed one of Terry’s closest friends, Linda Mitchell. “And he didn’t want anyone else to feel that way, so he dispensed love to others in abundance for the rest of his life. He never got past not getting the love he had wanted as a child growing up in Michigan, and he always seemed somewhat surprised to find love coming to him from others. It seemed as if he didn’t feel worthy.”
As the AIDS crisis began to overwhelm the gay community of Dallas, like many other urban cities, Terry began to lose weight and energy. He had avoided being tested for HIV status because there was literally no treatment for the underlying disease, but when his doctors discovered that he had Hodgkin’s disease, they suspected (and then confirmed) that Terry was HIV-positive. Bill got tested at that point, as well, and it was determined that he, too, was HIV-positive but without any overt signs of being ill with the disease at that time.
“After Terry's diagnosis of Hodgkin's disease in the spring of 1987, the complications that could result from the upcoming chemotherapy and an impaired immune system changed him," observed Waybourn following Terry’s death in 1988. “I remember that conversation well. The two of us had been attending a meeting in North Dallas and were driving back to the store, and I noticed that Terry was very nervous and edgy. I asked him if he was okay, and he said he wanted to ask me a personal question. He asked me if, during my recent heart attack, I had ever thought that I was going to die … that I might not survive it. I told him that those thoughts were not with me at first, but that a few weeks later the real force of what had happened to me, or what could have happened, and what still might happen in the future, hit me pretty hard. I told him that it was the first time in my life that I realized how fragile life really is and that the experience had helped me get my priorities in order. I knew that what he was really asking was if or how I had managed to get over the fear of death. I said that I didn't think anyone ever got over those fears, and that you somehow have to learn to accept them and to live with them as you determine your true priorities for whatever time you have left on this earth. I told him that my heart attack had been, for me, a "lucky stroke," because it had given me an intensity I had lacked before, a sense of commitment to use wisely whatever life I had left.”
As 1987 progressed, Terry had to accept more doctor visits, more medical tests, and the never pleasant consequences of ever-increasing medications ... some of which were experimental with unknown side effects. One of the opportunistic diseases that affected Terry most was a disease of the eyes that could only be treated by unnerving injections of medication into the eyeballs, administered by a clinic in Houston, since Dallas had no such treatments available at that time.
On a very cold December night in 1987, at the plaza in front of Dallas City Hall, a now famous ACT-UP/GUTS rally was held involving the drawing of 610 chalk outlines on the plaza’s pavement, representing the 610 gay men who had by then lost their lives to AIDS in Dallas. Terry, himself frail and weakened by the disease, nevertheless attended the rally that brutally cold night and brought hot chocolate, serving it to the rally participants until it ran out. It was “perfect Terry” … handling the details of a major event. It would be his last. He only had another month to live.
Terry died of AIDS-related illnesses on January 28, 1988, at the age of 38, and a memorial service was conducted in his honor on January 31. After the memorial service, many in attendance went again to the plaza in front of City Hall and placed into the large fountain 641 floating candles … 640 representing lives previously lost to AIDS, and one more representing Terry as its latest victim.
Shortly after Terry’s death, Bill, although grief-stricken over the loss of his life partner, had to make decisions on how Terry’s body would be put to rest. Since state law at the time required approval of an immediate family member before any cremation could occur (which had been Terry’s preference), and since no such family member was in Terry’s life, Bill and his mother, Jean Nelson, made the decision to have Terry buried in Bill’s designated gravesite in the family cemetery plot in Dallas, alongside Bill’s dad, and that Bill would later share the same gravesite with Terry, fitting evidence of their eternal commitment to each other.
“In the end," said William Waybourn at Terry’s memorial service, “Terry's fear was not so much of dying, but that he would be forgotten. I assured him that we all live on forever in one another's memories, and that his sense of humor had guaranteed him a place in everyone's mind forever. He was afraid that he had not done enough, but he had run out of time … Through us, through our work, Terry will live on.”
At Terry's memorial service, John Thomas read the following statement written by Steve Endean, the founder of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.:
The passing of Terry Tebedo is not only a personal loss for so many, but all represents a tragic loss for the community, at both the local and national levels.
When I launched the Fairness Fund, I knew immediately I wanted Terry to serve on the board of directors, leading his extraordinary talents, energy, and charm to this initiative. And we've been so proud to have his help and leadership in these pioneering times.
I wish there were words to adequately express the sadness and sense of loss we feel at this time. but I do know that we all -- individually and collectively -- are better for the unceasing dedication and uncommon good humor of Terry's life. After Black Tie Dinner's direct mail and major donor fund raising, the Human Rights Campaign Fund had a strategy to expand its donor base and mailing list, called "SOS '84." Terry Tebedo headed up that effort in Dallas so successfully that other cities were challenged to keep up. He won the hearts of our current board when we were in Dallas in April of '87.
Terry Tebedo is a name known across this nation's gay rights movement, and there was such a life, and so much life, behind that name. May we each agree to do a bit more in his memory -- in his name.
Trying to describe even a small part of Terry Tebedo’s life is no easy task. So many people knew so many things about him, and had so many different experiences of him … different things they remember most. I once asked John Thomas what he remembered most about Terry, and he just said: “Terry’s beautiful ice-blue eyes … the most talked about eyes in the country.” I think John got it right. Over the years, people have asked me to describe Terry, to sum up what I knew of him, as impossible as that sounds. For some reason, whenever that happens, I’m reminded of the final pages of A River Runs Through It, where the author of the book tells his father that, “Maybe all I know about Paul is that he was a fine fisherman” … to which the grieving father wisely replies, “You know more than that. He was beautiful.” In the end, maybe that’s what I remember most about Terry.
© 2018 by M. W. Anglin