George Howard Terrell was as solid as they come. A loving husband. A doting father. A minister who offered comfort and healing to all. “He was very serious in his walk with the Lord,” said his wife Deitre Terrell. “My husband was really solid in who he was.”
On May 1, Terrell, 73, of Douglasville died after battling COVID-19. Both he and his wife had experienced symptoms, but Terrell, who had survived prostate cancer and a quadruple heart bypass in 2018, was sent home from the hospital because his symptoms were not life-threatening. By the time he was admitted, his condition had declined. On Easter Sunday, before he was placed on a ventilator, he sent a text message to his family with the gospel song “Rise Again.”
“When I got it, I knew that’s what he was saying,” said Deitre Terrell. “He was going to leave here.”
Whenever anyone asked, George Terrell would tell them he was born at “colored Grady,” his way of expressing Atlanta’s segregated conditions in 1947. Terrell was raised in the Fourth Ward, the sixth of seven siblings. He quickly gained a reputation as the gregarious child.
Though he was raised Methodist, as a teen, Terrell decided that he wanted to attend Drexel Catholic High School, a new high school for African American students in Collier Heights. His mom told him if he wanted to go to a Catholic school, he would have to pay for it himself, so he got a job working on a grocery truck. In 1965, Terrell graduated as salutatorian of the school’s first senior class.
He headed to Howard University, but after a few years, he began plotting a return to his hometown. His plans were interrupted when he was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. He was honorably discharged in 1971, having gained extensive experience in electronics and communications. He returned to Atlanta to put his new skills to use. “Whenever he learned something, he didn’t just learn it, he applied it,” said his wife. Terrell earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Georgia State University and began his career with AT&T.
That summer, his sister introduced him to a young lady from Michigan. Deitre Terrell had just finished school and had planned to take a vacation to Jamaica but ended up in Atlanta. Just a few months after meeting, the two married in 1972.
After a brief move to North Carolina, the young family settled in Smyrna. When Terrell’s parents, who had been living with the family, died within months of each other in 1986, it was a turning point in his life. The Sunday school teacher and member of Ben Hill United Methodist Church became more devoted to God than he had ever been. “That is when he turned to the Lord 100%,” Deitre Terrell said. “I would wake up in the middle of the night and he was someplace in the house reading the Bible.”
Their lives noticeably changed, said Terrell’s daughter, Aisha Willis. “I always understood the gravity of what God meant to him even before it meant anything to me,” she said. She and her brother, Jabari, spent many days working with their parents at Joy Unspeakable bookstore in College Park, where her father would hold weekly Bible study sessions in the back of the store. Helping customers grow closer to God led Terrell to become an ordained minister, and in 1996, he founded Crossroads Christian Center in Riverdale, where he served as pastor until 2017.
Terrell later had time to focus on his many other passions — perfecting his recipes for red velvet cake and smoked meats and enjoying his six grandchildren — before he fell ill. Terrell and his wife both had fevers, but when they went to the hospital breathing on their own, they were turned away. The following weekend as the state went into lockdown, Willis and her family drove by her parents’ house to wave from outside, but her father couldn’t make it to the door. “That’s when I knew he was really sick,” Willis said.
She convinced her parents to allow paramedics to come to the house and waited on the front lawn as the first responders took their temperatures and measured oxygen levels. Terrell’s levels were normal and his breathing was fine. They knew if he tried to go to the hospital, he would likely be turned away again.
But a few days later, Willis’ father sent her a text. He needed to go to the hospital. Willis and her husband followed behind as Deitre drove her husband to the hospital. They all sat in the parking lot until he called and told them he had to stay overnight. “That was the last time I was able to see him,” Willis said.
Within weeks, his condition deteriorated until he was receiving daily kidney dialysis and frequent blood transfusions, his wife said.
Terrell had always told his wife he wanted his family around when it was his time to go, and Deitre Terrell knew the time had come. She went to the hospital promising to call her children for a final conversation with their father, but when she arrived, she learned she had to leave her phone outside. A nurse offered hers and Deitre placed a call to her children. “They told him they loved him and they would be OK and he could go home,”said Deitre Terrell. And she held his hand and rubbed his head until his heart stopped beating.
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