44-year veteran remembers lean years with sheriff

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 7, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

LAPLACE – Not many law enforcement officers who are still in active duty can say they knew former St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff Percy D. Hebert personally, but Percy “Pappy” Terry Jr. is one of those special few.
“I might not answer to my real name,” he said.
Terry, 77, whose nickname is short for “Papoose,” a name he earned as an infant, has served on the force for about 44 years. He is currently stationed at the Garyville police substation, where he works part time.
The St. Charles Parish native said he ended up in St. John Parish because it was halfway between him and his wife, Merlyn, who is originally from St. James Parish. Terry has a background in military service from his work with Intelligence G-2 with the 7th Army Headquarters, where he worked from 1958 to 1960 in Stuttgart, Germany. He worked at Shell in Norco until he was laid off and then drifted into law enforcement in a haphazard kind of way. Terry said that at the time, Hebert asked him if he wanted a job. He agreed even though the work was low paying.
“I wasn’t doing a whole lot at the time, and the sheriff said, ‘You want a job?’ I said yeah, and he said ‘Tell my secretary I said to put you on.’ I started off on street patrol, I guess you could say. On the road we did everything because we had no specialists back then. Anything that came up was yours,” said Terry.
Terry said he was the first full-time officer the sheriff had. He began as a patrol officer at a time when there were only two officers on a shift at a time for the whole parish. There was little crime initially, but that all changed with the boom of industry and major roadways.
“That’s all they had. Really, pay was not a whole lot, and the Sheriff’s Office didn’t have a whole lot of finances. Of course you didn’t have a whole lot of people (living here) like you do now,” explained Terry. “They passed that quarter-cent tax later on and that really gave them something to work with. And boy, with that interstate, the parish blew up.”
As befitting of someone in his line of work, Terry has experienced more than his share of interesting stories and had the opportunity to do things he may not otherwise have been able to. Terry recalls the time he met President Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States. “He came down the river and stopped at the Reserve ferry landing. He walked up the levee, down the ramp, and back up the levee,” said Terry. “Our job was really to make sure that nothing happened to him. The sheriff told us if something happened to him, don’t come back. He was very nice, shook hands with people along the way. My son shook hands with him twice.”
Terry eventually moved on to detective work, and then again to become the parish director of juvenile services, where working with children and teenagers became something of a calling. He made a bit of a name for himself working with juvenile offenders, and was known for his ability to draw even the most resigned teenager into conversation with his easygoing demeanor and understanding expression. Terry’s work in juvenile services even received an extensive write-up in an older edition of L’Observateur from reporter Edith Vicknair.
Terry recently received an award commending his years of service from current St. John Parish Sheriff Mike Tregre. The spry senior said he’s been on good terms with most of the sheriffs since Hebert. Merlyn Terry noted his tactful manner incited positive feelings from those around him.
Terry said he has no idea when he plans to retire. He does, however, have a good idea of how he will spend his spare time — he has three sons and seven grandchildren to keep him busy.
“My plan for the future is to hang out with my sons and watch my grandchildren grow and keep them in school one way or the other,” he said.