A Pillar of Humility and A Pillar of the Community

“I have a dream,” one of the most powerful and iconic phrases of the20th century, has vast and varied meanings, and is used in a variety of contexts to denote everything from struggle to hope to diversity to social justice.

For the Terry family here in Falmouth, it symbolizes the tireless and dedicated work of family matriarch, and pillar of humility, Denise, who carried on the legacy of Eugene Lang’s “I Have A Dream” Foundation, mentoring dozens of children in need and helping provide them a pathway to education, recreation, and a way out—and up.

As Donna and I arrived at the splendid but comfortable Terry home recently to cook a charity dinner won by Denise and husband, Don, as a benefit to the Falmouth Museums on the Green, the family matriarch was emptying the dishwasher while choreographing the placement of furniture and dishes for the upcoming family repast, an event scheduled to not only celebrate their winning bid, but also Denise’s birthday.

As “Papi” Don emerged in a Japanese robe, obtained on one his many trips abroad while a senior staffer in the US Congress and a worldwide expert in international development, he was swarmed by adoring granddaughters Lucia and Anabel, while grandsons Henry and Noah intently watched and analyzed the Red Sox. Wise beyond his 10 years, Henry, upon meeting me, immediately offered his analysis of the failures of this year’s team and his thoughts on how it can be improved. I offered to provide him the inside scoop on next year’s Falmouth Commodores team and noted that we would welcome his scrutiny and baseball breakdown. I have a feeling he’ll take me up on that.

As Donna and I began preparing our culinary collation of red wine-braised short ribs and Parmesan risotto, assisted dutifully by our parents Phil and Donna Stone, the warm and spacious kitchen bustled with activity. This house, used as a summer retreat for previous generations, then renovated and lived-in full time by Don and Denise upon their retirement a few years back, is far more than a home. It is a headquarters for the lives, the love, and the learning of the Terry family, all of which are tangible and palpable, flowing through each room and all the inhabitants like a gentle, loving breeze.

At the center of the life, love, and learning of the family is Denise. Ever the teacher, offering thoughts, sharing memories, and suggestions to daughters Elizabeth, Meghan Amy and Eleanor, she is the center—the lifeblood—of the house, but not the center of attention. Her kind and relaxed demeanor is evident in her children and grandchildren and in her local charitable work. Denise is the secretary for the Carousel of Light, the local nonprofit dedicated to preserving Lance Shinkle’s hand-carved opus, and is an active member of St. Barnabas Church, sharing her wit, wisdom, and educator’s skills with hundreds of Falmouthites and visitors alike. This pillar of humanity is also a pillar of the community.

When Don and Denise lived in Washington, DC, Denise was teaching at Sidwell Friends, the capital’s leading private school, dedicated to educating the children of Washington’s elite. Denise’s passion, however, was (and is) sharing her teaching talents and her compassion with a wider slice of humanity. Through her Episcopal church, she and others initiated a local version of Eugene Lang’s foundation, dedicating their efforts to providing that same way out and up to some of Washington’s less fortunate learners.

Begun more than 20 years ago with a group of 72 kindergarten students, Denise and her fellow dreamers raised funds and raised hopes, providing those young people with after-school tutoring, summer camp, rides to soccer games, and the same love and learning granted to her own children. Eventually, Denise left her job at Sidwell Friends, dedicating herself fully to fulfilling those dreams—of Eugene Lang, of Martin Luther King Jr., of those 72 kids, and of Denise herself—and providing a pathway to do it, including annual tuition of $4,000 for each dreamer. A generation later, almost every one of those 72 students has earned a GED, a third have college degrees, and four have earned a graduate degree. The world is a better place due to Denise’s efforts.

Don and Denise’s children understand—and live—that commitment to the betterment of the human condition. Elizabeth lives and works in Washington, writing on important public policy issues for international organizations. Amy is an attorney and lives in New Haven with husband, Colin (who, by the way, can really swing a club and actually beat Jordan Spieth in a golf match a few years back). Meghan earned a PhD in developmental psychology from Boston College and lives in Watertown with husband, Andrew. Youngest daughter Eleanor, who has taught Advanced Placement statistics classes in the challenging environment of Brooklyn, New York, was recently honored by the New York Times, which noted in its effusive praise that she, “doesn’t just teach math, she teaches optimism.” After cooking and spending dinner at the Terry home, it’s easy to see where she gets it. The Times continued its homage to the Terry teaching legacy, noting that “She’s the teacher you want your kids to have.” The Terry women all share—and exude—that same upbeat teacherly demeanor and optimism.

Their roots are strong in Falmouth. Although Denise hails from New York, she spent summers in Falmouth with Don, and as their romance turned into marriage, and marriage turned into a loving family, each summer was spent in Falmouth. From tales of summer peanut butter sandwiches on Hudson Street to summer breakfasts with Don’s dad at Angelo’s supermarket to summer jobs at Capers, where the BBC stands now, the Terry women may be ”from” somewhere else, but they are Falmouthites all.

They all converged on Falmouth to celebrate the birthday of their mom and teacher. What they celebrated was a shared commitment to humankind—just by being together and being the people that Don and Denise raised them to be. There is no greater legacy than that.

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