Only last December, I sat on the stage with the Athens Symphony Chorus and marveled again at Terry Kay’s narration of his wondrous children’s story, To Whom the Angel Spoke, set to music, and performed by the Athens Symphony. His marvelous voice filled the hall, and his story was ever a crowd pleaser. And though the Athens Symphony and Chorus produced an amazing online concert this year after in person performances were canceled, I was still getting ready to shed a big alligator tear because I miss my friends I sing with in shows. Now Terry’s death has really turned on the waterworks because no one and I mean NO ONE will ever be able to match his performance or his presence.
There are many who knew Terry Kay far better than I did, but no matter where you thought you fell in the hierarchy of his friends, he made all his acquaintances feel as if we were in his inner circle.
Our lives also intersected in other ways besides the symphony—most of them related to writing. We occasionally met for coffee through the years to discuss writing and I was amazed at how generous he was with his time. I was one of many he made this allowance for, because an array of authors cued up to meet with him. Inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame, writers sought his wisdom and counsel. Because of his willingness to be available, I sometimes forgot how widely known and admired he was. I heard him speak at the Decatur Book Festival one year. When I left the building, the line for Terry’s book signing stretched around the vast hall.
And speaking of the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame, what a joy it was to attend inductions at the invitation of my friend, Jane Kilgo, whose husband Jim (also a lifelong inspiration) was one of the inductees. What an incredible privilege and seeing Terry there was always a delight.
I will remember several things about Terry.
An idiosyncrasy comes to mind. He once told me he could only write in a room if there was a typewriter in it. Don’t you love it? I’m thinking of dragging my dad’s old college typewriter out of the attic if it will help me write like Terry.
I will remember his unparalleled sense of humor. I once took a screenwriting class that Terry taught and his anecdotes were as entertaining as his instruction was informative.
He was known for saying, “The strength of the sentence is in the verb.” As I’m noticing the passive voice I’ve used several times in this piece, I still have a way to go with that one.
Another piece of advice I’ve probably quoted a hundred times when I’ve been teaching, “You don’t write to tell a story. You write to discover a story.” If you read any of Terry’s books, and I hope that you do, you will find he discovered gems.
But most of all, I will remember him for something he lived rather than something he said. Or maybe he did say it, but through one of his characters. I’ve been reading Terry’s books in reverse order, because I only read his first book this summer. In The Year the Lights Came On, a novel of how electricity came to rural Georgia, his character Colin says, “But I know what Wesley would say: ‘The problem with walking backward is that you see only where you’ve been.’”
Terry didn’t walk backward. He walked forward. And his gaze was ever on the next book, the next project. At any point after his first novel, he could have put away his pen, and rested on his laurels. But he didn’t. He kept working. Because of that, three of his books have been made into Hallmark Hall of Fame movies including the well-known, To Dance with the White Dog, and many have garnered awards with his most recent work published this year, The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet. Terry was 82.
His greatest inspiration to me was his ability to keep pressing ahead, despite aging or any other challenge, his eyes ever sparking with anticipation and hope. To use a cliché (sorry Terry), he died with his boots on.
I’m reminded of a verse from Philippians 3. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
A man of faith, Terry has reached the goal and is probably right now gathering a group of angelic heralds in heaven and teaching them how to sharpen the prose in their announcements.
Terry left us a lifetime of work to read and reread and he has taught so many writers. His influence will be exponential.
Thank you, Terry, for everything. We remember you with gratitude and much love.