Terry Fox: More than Just a Small Town Boy

terry fox, charleston south carolina, charleston arts festival
Photo by Jonathan Boncek

When I met Terry Fox at Charleston Wine + Food in 2018, his sparkling personality and honest wit captivated me. While everyone gathered to meet and talk to chefs, I waited to talk with Terry. He was the most fascinating person in the room. And two years later with my phone glued to my ear, I listened as he talked about his life with detail that kept me engaged with every word. 

“Oh, I’m just a hillbilly from North Carolina,” Terry joked when I asked if he was originally from Charleston. He was born and raised in Hudson, a 1,500 person town that’s a little over an hour outside of Asheville. He came of age in the Ozzie and Harriet, Howdy Doody era and was reared by balanced parents. “I was the only child and the light of the universe,” he said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up during any other time.” 

As soon as Terry graduated from high school, he sprinted out of dodge and headed straight for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill! Being from a small mountain town, he always saw UNC-Chapel Hill as being an educational beacon. “I majored in English,” he said, “and it prepared me to read and do absolutely nothing ever since.” I slightly choked on my wine at hearing him say that, because Terry has been doing everything since. 

After graduating from UNC with his prized English degree, Terry moved along to graduate school at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. “I was coming out as a gay man and had one of the worst years of my life,” he recounted. “I was determined to not work on that degree.” While dreaming of places where he could find respite, memories of Charleston’s allure waltzed through. So, Terry packed his bags, left Columbia and his graduate degree behind, and moved to the Holy City. He didn’t look back.

“At the time, Charleston was very dark, romantic, and sensual,” he said, comparing the city he experienced in the late 60s, early 70s to what he experiences now. Terry may have spent his  formative years at UNC-Chapel Hill, but he grew and settled into adulthood in Charleston.

Terry lived a lot of lives before launching the Charleston Arts Festival and becoming one of the organizers of Charleston’s PechaKucha event. He began his life in Charleston as a teacher. The year was 1968 and pivotal time for Charleston County Schools, as they were still hanging on to segregation, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 ruling that segregation was unconstitutional. During his first year of teaching, Terry taught at an all-Black high school on James Island. “It was a wonderful experience,” said Terry. “I learned so much from the kids and became friends with a lot of students after they graduated,” he recalled. 

After teaching, he worked in student affairs at Johnson and Wales and then the Art Institute of Charleston. “I also worked for 10 years in the administration at an inpatient psychiatric hospital,” he said. His career was always in and around education and counseling, but his personal life was filled with art and creativity (take a tour of his marshside condo and you’ll see). 

The many layers of Terry’s career and personal life eventually led him to co-create Charleston Arts Festival (CAF) with Andrew Walker. Also, in a collaboration with Charles Carmody of Charleston Music Hall, CAF has partnered to continue presenting PechaKuchas in Charleston. Although things are still uncertain with the current state of the world, Terry and Andrew plan to bring CAF back this year. “This year will be the fifth iteration of the festival,” he said. “We don’t know what we’ll be doing, but we’ll be doing it.” The festival may not be as robust as years past, but the creative community will be looking for opportunities and Terry will be ready to give it to them! 

Three beers for Terry, two glasses of wine for me, and one hour later, we went from talking about Terry’s life to discussing books and boys. Our conversation was supposed to help me write a brief introduction to our “At the Table” interview with him. However, it was clear that the introduction wouldn’t be brief. He shared so many important layers of his life that made him the fabulous, artist-loving man he is today that I couldn’t possibly cram it into one paragraph. “I’m scared,” he said when I told him I would have to write a novel. But, there was no need for him to be. I wanted you to know Terry. I am lucky our paths crossed via CurEat. And if you find yourself in Charleston, I can guarantee you’ll find him sipping a cocktail at The Belmont.

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