Dr. Luther L. Terry was county#039;s highest governmental official

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 3, 2003

Dr. Luther L. Terry is known for having achieved the highest known governmental position for a person from Covington County. During the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, Dr. Terry was appointed to head the National Public Health Service as Surgeon General during the early part of 1961. He was reappointed to the office four years later under President Lyndon B. Johnson. During 1964, he became prominent internationally when he published the Surgeon General's report on the harmful effects of smoking and the link between it and lung cancer. After serving two years of his second term of office, he resigned to become Vice-president of the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. L.E. Terry was born about 1912 in Red Level as the fourth child of Dr. James Edward Terry, general physician in Red Level and the surrounding area. Dr. James Edward Terry was born in Greensboro, Hale County, Alabama, on October 19, 1875. His ancestors had come to the state from Virginia in 1830. He grew up in that area and attended the public schools and then the Southern University at Greensboro. Afterwards he enrolled in the University of Alabama at Mobile.

Dr. James E. Terry was graduated from the University of Alabama Medical Department in Mobile in 1902. He came to Covington County that year and began making calls in and around Red Level. He practiced general medicine in the area until his death in 1935.

In 1903, Dr. J.E. Terry was married to Lula Durham, also a native of Hale County who attended the State Normal School at Livingston, Alabama. She was regarded as a strong supporter of her husband's work. They had the following five children: Morris H. who resided in Pensacola; Elizabeth who married S. Reece White and became a school teacher and later lived in Huntsville; Durham Edward, manager of Clark Hardware of Red Level and county leader including serving as a member of the County Board of Education; Dr. Luther L., former United States Surgeon General of Philadelphia and Washington; and Margaret who was valedictorian of the 1931 Senior Class at Red Level High School and died a few years afterwards.

Dr. Terry became a valuable businessman in Red Level. In addition to his medical office, he owned a major interest in the Terry Drug Company, which later became the Roundtree Drug Store, and managed two farms in the area. For many years he made his house calls on horseback or in a carriage. He is remembered as one of the first men in Red Level to purchase a car.

In 1957, the citizens of Red Level and the surrounding area built a modern medical center, which they named the Terry Medical Clinic in memory of Dr. Terry. In recent years the clinic has been renovated and converted into the First Step facility, which is a treatment center for those addicted to alcohol. Dr. Terry was a credit to the community and has been remembered as a very professional physician.

His son, Dr. James Luther Terry, excelled in high school and entered Birmingham College at the age of 15 years. Upon graduation he attended the Tulane Medical School in New Orleans. He later trained at Hillman Hospital in Birmingham and did a residency in internal medicine at Cleveland University Hospital.

Dr. Terry's first teaching was at Washington University, which was followed by teaching at the University of Texas. In 1942, Dr. Terry became Chief of Medical Services at the Public Health Services Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He became a part-time instructor of cardiology and internal medicine at Johns Hopkins University. In 1958 he became Assistant Director of the Heart Institute where he worked until receiving President Kennedy's appointment.

Dr. Terry and his wife, Janet, reared the following three children: Jan Terry Kollock, Luther L. Terry, Jr., and Michael Terry. The family lived in the Washington and Philadelphia areas. At Dr. Terry's death, President Reagan approved a rare exception by allowing him to be buried in the Arlington Cemetery.

Thus, this Terry family contributed very significantly to the development of this area and to the care of its citizens. In addition, this geographical area received positive recognition as the home of a prominent national leader in the health care field.

Sources for the above history included local genealogical records and the Covington County History, 1821-1976 by Gus and Ruby Bryan. Anyone who might have found any errors or who might be able to share additional information on this family is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 21361 Rabren Road, Andalusia, AL 36420 or Email: chthom@alaweb.com

The writer would very much like to learn more about other residents wearing the Terry name who settled in Covington County at a much earlier date. At the present, it is not known if there was any relationship between them and the above family.


The Covington Rifles Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans will meet at 7 p.m. on Thursday, February 6, at the Andalusia Public Library. Guests are invited to attend.