Obituary of Gregory D. Terrell
Gregory Dean Terrell, son of Robert Douglas and Mary Ida Smith Terrell, entered the world on Thursday, June 14th, 1956 in Santa Monica, California.
In 1959 at the age of 3, Gregg became a big brother to his sister, Robbie. Even then, he was the consummate caretaker, insisting over and over that he personally carry baby Robbie home rather than risk his most precious cargo in an automobile until their mother relented and let him. Gregg demonstrated to Robbie inexplicable love and devotion to family. Growing up in the Terrell household, required a good understanding of comedy in order to remain sane and survive. So needless to say, Gregg had a goofy side! He and Robbie went on mini adventures in the many places they lived. They went fly fishing with their Grandpa Smitty, proprietor of the local hardware store in Durango, and they loved to spend time at the Terrell-owned laundromats (on that same street in Durango) and count the pennies that never fit in the machines. Faithfully doing their chores, they kept the laundromats clean.
Gregg and Robbie were total opposites. He was nearly non-verbal. She was extremely verbal. He thought about what he was going to say, and she’d say it for him before he got the chance. He was so sweet to his sister and loved being her brother. In the early 70s, Gregg bought a truck and started his own lawn care business, and he would take Robbie with him on his jobs. He did his best to introduce her to the world of rock 'n' roll and instill in her a love for music. She never could understand the lyrics so he would patiently explain what they meant. He loved spending time with his friends at Silver State Baptist school, namely Dave Nelson, Larry Locke, Levi Robinson, and Steve Jelsma. His friends knew that if Gregg was coming to "hang", he'd be bringing his little sister with him. Robbie continued to learn from her big brother as they got older and she watched him grow, flourish, struggle, and survive through all of his life's circumstances.
On December 17th, 1977 he married Mary Kathryn Whitlatch and together they raised four children: Jasmine Nicole, Amber Dawn, Blake Amos, and Sai Whitlatch. He loved his children more than life itself. His plan and purpose was always to care and provide for his family. Though their marriage ended some years ago Kathy and Gregg both remained fully committed to their children, and maintained a loving friendship to the end.
Throughout his life Gregg earned many degrees, and pursued a lifelong career in various healthcare administration positions. He attended Bob Jones University, in Greenville, SC, for his undergraduate degree, and went on to earn his Bachelor and Master's Degrees in Healthcare Administration at Des Moines University from 1990-1992.
Gregg and his family decided to make a move in 1999 to Lone Tree, Iowa, into a community of believers that would become an answer to Gregg's prayers. He had been searching for years for a place to worship until finally finding solace in Catholicism. It was in Iowa City he joined the Catholic Church as a parishioner of St. Patrick’s. There he found the spiritual peace he had long searched for. After living for a short time in the Des Moines area, Gregg moved back to Iowa City in 2022. He then joined St. Wenceslaus parish where he hoped to become a faithful member before his condition worsened.
In his own words: “For me, part of becoming a Catholic was becoming a member of a church that wasn't about me or my preferences or my personal opinions or considered beliefs. … I became a Catholic to become a member of something that understood that I don't live my life floating on a cloud of spiritual superiority and wellness. I found, in the Catholic church, a faith that was common, that could stand getting messy, that wore work clothes, that didn't require me to be something I'm not, no matter my current spiritual state. A faith that was open and inviting to anyone and everyone, wherever they were, spiritually or otherwise.”
The work he took on to feed his family would eventually lead to disability, and he retired from his position as Applications Developer at the University of Iowa in 2012 where he had worked for nearly 14 years.
He was a theologian, an avid reader, and a scholar of the Church. His unbridled zeal for books and writing, and discovering and experiencing beauty defined his legacy here on earth. He leaves behind hundreds of books on the lives of saints, and spirituality more broadly. He was a passionate music lover, and would often take his youngest son out of school for the day to see their shared favorite musician, Bob Dylan. Just like Robbie, he was bombarded by questions about Dylan’s cryptic lyrics by Sai, and they would patiently parse them together. Every Sunday morning his kids would hear something like Niel Young’s “Harvest” to let them know it was time for church. Besides reading about matters of faith, his favorite activity was spending time with his grandchildren, and they loved their Bop-bop.
Gregg had a kind and gentle way about him that engendered a sense of belonging in every person he met. Animals adored and were drawn to him, even wild ones were tamed by his gentle touch and children alike were dazzled by his irresistible smile. He was a man who spent his life in search of purpose, he was always concerned with matters of faith, and for providing for his family.
He was not a rich man, materially speaking, but he might have been if not for his unrivaled generosity of resources and time. LHe spent the time that lesser men might spend enriching themselves and their pocketbooks instead in prayer and devotion to those around him, particularly the least fortunate. He is survived by his host of friends who still testify to his solidaristic, charitable benevolence.
Gregg’s wisdom was treasured by all who received it. If ever we sought his counsel, he would spend much time in careful consideration before offering his humble advice. Armed always with the Word, he balanced his insightful critique with his characteristic wit and humor; he could talk nearly anyone through a difficult situation. He’d continue to think about and pray for his friends who confided in him after they left him. But oftentimes he wouldn’t stop there – sending small gifts to remind them of his love. And for good measure he’d follow up on their birthday with a greeting or a psalm.
For those who knew him best, he was our confidant, our intercessor, and our knight in shining armor. He was in his own words “the Dark Horse” (for he was a little-known contender who made an unexpectedly good showing.) What mattered to him was not that people thought well of him, or that he was seen as a ‘do-gooder.’ What mattered was performing acts of self-sacrifice, for the glory of God, in service of others; he was most pleased whenever he could help someone without their even knowing. Whenever he heard a call of distress, whether of an old friend or a complete stranger on the side of the road, he would drop everything to rush to their aid. Each of those souls that he saved has a story to tell of his bravery and compassion. We may never know the full number of lives he interceded on behalf of.
But we know the truth – a truth that rings to all generations to come as Gregg closes his last chapter here on earth – is that God was, and is the author and finisher of his faith. Heb. 12:2. Gregg rounded out the rough edges of our lives and none of us ever felt alone.
In his final decade, his health worsened as his faith grew stronger. Grand gestures became harder to perform, as his earthly body failed him. He instead pleaded with his family to offer him small tasks so that he could still freely give of himself to us. This way was the “Little Way,” and thus his choice of St. Thérèse of Lisieux as Baptismal name in the Catholic faith was most fitting.
In April of this year, Gregory Dean Terrell was diagnosed with non-alcoholic liver cancer. After one round of radiation and a rapid decline he entered the gates of Heaven at 3:40 in the afternoon on a cold and windy autumn Friday, October 6th, 2023. He was surrounded by his family his last few days and was able to be kept as comfortable and pain free as possible thanks to the caring staff and volunteer army of The Birdhouse of Iowa City and Compassus Hospice Care.
Like “The Little Flower” St. Thérèse, Gregg suffered immensely as he was in poor health for most of his life, tormented and disabled by pain. It was incomprehensible to those who knew him just why such a good and loving man would be shouldered with such a burden, but God had a plan for Gregg, something he was always sure of. His relationship with God was the envy of us whose faith was less certain. And just like St. Thérèse’s example, his suffering dignified him in ways that few could match. No earthly remedy could remove the pain for him, and so he instead chose his attitude towards it. He fixed his eyes squarely on God and his family. He redoubled his efforts to join the small minority of those who would dedicate their life completely to the pursuit of God’s grace, struggling towards a saintly being. He mastered a hard lot, with his head held high, and for that he was our prince.
As the philosopher Spinoza said in the concluding words of Ethics, “but everything great is just as difficult to realize as it is rare to find” — Gregg’s spirit will live on in the hearts of all he touched, it's difficult-to-realize greatness rivaled only by the rarity of encountering its likeness, his face now turned forever towards God.
Preceded in death by: Robert Douglas and Mary Ida Smith Terrell, parents.
Survived by: One sibling: Robbie (& Craig) Stoeker. Four children: Jasmine (& Jenna) Terrell, Blake (& Morgan) Terrell, Amber Terrell, Sai (& Jess) Ewald. Nine grandchildren: Kai Greiner, Jackson Fehring-Terrell, Aiden Gillespie, Amelia Gillespie, Vivian Gillespie, Apollo Terrell, Corban Terrell, Jocelyn Terrell, Joshua Terrell. Niece: Jessica Hoyt, and nephew: Samuel Stoecker. Grandniece: River Hoyt.
Public visitation will be on Monday, October 16th at 9:00AM at St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Iowa City, followed by a funeral mass at 10:00AM, and the Rite of Committal at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Iowa City.