Terry Helms was a DeKalb County firefighter for 32 years. FAMILY PHOTO
By Mea Watkins
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Terry Helms never allowed obstacles and health problems to get in the way of doing what he loved most — living. The Vietnam veteran, retired DeKalb County firefighter and avid fisherman kept a positive spirit and he told his family how things were going to be when he died, “There will be no sad songs and slow-walkin’ music when I go,” he said.
“He was at peace,” said his wife of 30 years, Pamela Garmon-Helms of Port Saint Joe, Fla.
Mr. Helms was known for his courage, dedication, character and wit. “He had a great deal of comedy about him,” said his sister-in-law, Stephanie Garmon-Ritchie of Dallas, Texas.
Terry Helms, of Port Saint Joe, Fla., and Two Rivers, Wis., formerly of Atlanta, died July 9 from complications of mesothelioma. He was 67. A memorial service is planned for October in Port Saint Joe, Fla. Deja & Martin Funeral Chapels, Two Rivers, Wis., is in charge of arrangements.
Mr. Helms was born in Gadsden, Ala., but spent most of his life in Atlanta. After completing two tours of duty in Vietnam, he returned to Atlanta and served the community as a DeKalb County firefighter for 32 years. The Helmses purchased the Grant Park home of author Margaret Mitchell’s aunt, renovated it themselves, and enjoyed it for 20 years before retiring to Port Saint Joe.
Mr. Helms faced and overcame some notable challenges. The war veteran suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and alcoholism. He was a proud member of Alcoholics Anonymous, and recently celebrated his seventh year of sobriety.
“He was very proud of that,” said his sister-in-law. “It was a very important part of his life.”
“The good that AA does [for people] really affected him,” his wife said. “He became involved, had a good sponsor and became a sponsor to other people.”
As his health declined, Mr. Helms continued to find ways to enjoy life. He took to fishing in the calmer waters of Dead Lakes in Wewahitchka, Fla. And he was fond of visiting fire houses in different countries. He often exchanged firefighter collectible patches and pins with the local firefighters, establishing new friendships along the way. Mrs. Helms recalled how a fireman once invited them to watch the French Bicentennial Parade from the curb along The Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris. While visiting Prague, he learned that the firefighters didn’t have good protective gear, so he shipped his old coveralls and boots there.
Mr. Helms also loved to cook. He was the only person with whom his aunt, a barbeque restaurant owner in Alabama, would share her secret barbeque sauce recipe.
“And it took her three years to decide whether to give him the recipe,” Ms. Garmon-Ritchie said.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Helms is survived by his son, Jason Helms of Oakwood, daughter Dani Helms Weaver of Duluth and two granddaughters.