Take a moment to say a prayer for Te’ore Terry. He was shot and killed the morning of Sunday, Feb. 14, 2021.
The woman behind the counter at the downtown CVS told me the news, but only after she had finished dealing with the third shoplifter of the day.
I asked her where the big man was; I often saw him working the evening shift where his presence, and “friendly-vigilance,” was hard to miss and seemed to discourage potential trouble.
She paused, looked down, and told me the big man I asked about, Te’ore Terry, had been murdered the previous Sunday morning. My head dropped from the utter shock of her words. I could not process what she said. I continued to stare at the floor as she repeated the news.
Caught off guard by my emotions, I looked up hesitantly and told her I was sorry. I was really sorry. Through moist eyes, she apologized and admitted it was the first time all week she had allowed herself to get emotional.
For those of us who live downtown, Te’ore was the big man. Tall, outgoing, always happy, always helpful, he was generally the first person you encountered when you entered CVS. His oversized smile, hip eyewear and big frame matched perfectly his larger-than-life personality.
Te’ore was wired for retail; the type who always made eye contact, asked what you needed and then escorted you — not directed you — to the item you were looking for. He was upbeat and professional in an environment that seemed to offer few rewards for engaging a customer with genuine kindness.
One of our daughters said he taught her the importance of checking for expiration dates when purchasing cosmetics; something she had never before done — until Te’ore told her she needed to.
Another daughter recalled the last time she saw him. She had thought that people like Te’ore — naturally outgoing people — are the best because they snap you out of your thoughts and make you appreciate the importance of the small, random encounters we have each day.
In my experience, Te’ore treated everyone the same, no matter the color of their skin, the clothes on their back or the lack of money in their wallet. At the corner of Fourth and Trade streets, in a place where he often waited on a rugged, down-on-their-luck crowd, Te’ore portioned out healthy doses of respect and dignity to everyone he encountered.
In a CVS, of all places, I experienced — every customer experienced — kindness standing tall.
The last time I saw Te’ore, my wife and I were walking home on Fourth Street. Te’ore was standing on the corner outside CVS and I told him how I’d been in the checkout line a couple of nights earlier when I saw him tell a small frail woman in a wheelchair that he had a gift. He then reached over the counter and presented her with a shiny gold ring.
She appeared disheveled, like someone who had experienced the hard side of life. But the moment Te’ore gave her the ring, her eyes lit up and her smile went from ear to ear. I have no doubt that small act of kindness made her day.
That’s why I stopped to speak with Te’ore. I told him I was impressed with how he treated the woman in the wheelchair and I said I thought he was really good at what he did. He smiled, let out a big chuckle, said thanks, told me the name of the woman, said she was great, then proceeded to wave off his gesture of kindness like it was no big deal.
Less than a month after this brief conversation, I would learn the man with the larger-than-life personality — someone who I watched bring kindness and humanity to a CVS in downtown Winston Salem — would become the victim of a violent crime.
In the days since receiving the tragic news, my thoughts kept returning to the fact that, in his workplace, Te’ore achieved something very few of us ever do in life: through small acts of kindness, he impacted complete strangers in a positive way. He made a difference in other’s lives.
I will not soon forget Te’ore Terry, or how kindness once stood tall at the corner of Fourth and Trade.
Rob Casey is a resident of downtown Winston-Salem.