Veteran deputy “Pappy” Terry honored for decades of service

Published 12:29 pm Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

LAPLACE — Having dedicated half a century to law enforcement, 87-year-old Percy “Pappy” Terry Jr. is the only man in St. John the Baptist Parish who can recount working under seven sheriffs.

His illustrious career began in the 1960s under Sheriff Percy Hebert, during a time when the parish was sparsely populated and fewer than five officers were on shift at a time. Terry was well into his 70s by the time he worked under Sheriff Mike Tregre in the 2010s.

While Terry’s health has recently declined, his contributions to local law enforcement shine as bright as ever. Tregre visited Terry’s home last week to present him with a blanket embroidered with the Sheriff’s Star, bearing the words, “Praying for You, Pappy.” In return, Terry presented Tregre with his old police uniform from the Percy Hebert era, which will now be on display inside the Lloyd B. Johnson Law Enforcement Training Center to inspire officers for generations to come.

Prior to joining the St. John Sheriff’s Office, Terry served in the military and was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany from 1958 to 1960. He bounced between odd jobs for several years upon returning home. In 1968, he fell into law enforcement by chance when Sheriff Percy Hebert asked if he wanted a job. He directed Terry to his secretary, Evelyn Sutton, with the promise that she would help him sign up.

Senior Deputy Early “Neg” Madere was the first to show Terry the ropes before he was assigned to the West Bank under Patrolman Jude Lions. He started off on street patrol during a time when only a handful of officers were on shift at any given time. The parish was sparsely populated, and crimes were few and far between.

Hebert passed away in February 1974 after more than 30 years in office, making him the sheriff with the longest tenure in St. John Parish history. Terry recalls that St. John Parish Coroner Dr. S.J. St. Martin was appointed to fill the vacancy by state law until Governor Edwin Edwards appointed Hebert’s wife, Leona Hebert, to serve as the interim sheriff. Lester J. Millet was elected soon after and served the parish from 1974 to 1976, when he resigned from office. Millet was succeeded by Lloyd B. Johnson, who served for 20 years as sheriff from 1976 to 1996. A spike in population from the construction of I-10 brought an explosion of crime into the parish. This prompted Johnson to send Terry to LSU for training, which in turn led to Terry becoming St. John Parish’s first juvenile officer.
The sixth sheriff Terry worked under was Wayne L. Jones, who assumed the role from 1996 through 2012. Terry continued working part-time from the Garyville sub-station for a few years after Mike Tregre was elected in 2012.

When he wasn’t working, Terry most enjoyed spending time with his three sons and seven grandchildren. He’s now added five great-grandchildren to the mix.

His son, Lance Terry, remembers looking up to his father and his fellow men in uniform. He recalls his father’s shift would come by the house to eat gumbo when the weather got too intense for them to patrol during Hurricane Season. His father had a front row seat to every parish event, from the groundbreaking of the Marathon Petroleum facility to President Gerald Ford’s visit to Reserve.

Terry served as a road deputy and a radio room dispatcher, but his son said most know him as a juvenile officer.

“When he would go to the store or when we would go anywhere with him, before his health started failing, you would always run into people that knew him,” Lance Terry said.  “A lot of times, it was the parent of a juvenile that had trouble. They would come running to him, shake his hand, and tell him how good he did for them way back when. We couldn’t go anywhere without somebody stopping him.”