Terry, Marshall Northway, Jr. (1931–2016)

By: Darwin Payne

Type: Biography

Published: April 11, 2022

Updated: April 11, 2022

Marshall Terry, noted novelist, remembered as “Mr. SMU” because of his influence and dedication to Southern Methodist University across a more than fifty-year-career as an English professor and administrator, son of Marshall Northway Terry, Sr., and Margaret L. H. (Carpenter) Terry, was born on February 7, 1931, in Cleveland. He was reared in Cincinnati and moved to Dallas and SMU in 1951. There he remained for the rest of his life and gained distinction beyond SMU as a leader in the state’s literary scene.

Before reaching Texas, Terry graduated from Cincinnati Country Day School in 1949 and spent his freshman and sophomore years at small liberal arts colleges. He spent his first year at Amherst College in Massachusetts and transferred to Kenyon College in Ohio for his second year. Then he found his true love in Texas when his parents moved to the state. He transferred to SMU for his last two undergraduate years and earned his bachelor of arts in English in 1953 and his master of arts in English in 1954. As a graduate student he was a part-time instructor in English. At SMU he met fellow English student, Antoinette “Toni” Barksdale from Ruston, Louisiana, and they married in Ruston on September 5, 1953.

Terry’s career followed a two-fold path: one as a popular and effective English professor and administrator, who became a campus leader in many respects and helped shape the university’s curriculum and academic philosophy as author of the 1963 university master plan; and the second as a writer and dedicated member of the Texas Institute of Letters. First, though, in 1955 Terry’s life took on a change when he joined the prestigious advertising firm owned by Sam Bloom, an influential behind-the-scenes figure with the city’s powerful Dallas Citizens Council and often proclaimed as an advertising genius. Bloom took Terry under his wing and introduced him to the ways of using publicity and advertising to win public favor for important civic projects as well as for satisfying the needs of more mundane products.

SMU’s president, Willis M. Tate, hired Marsh Terry in 1957 as director of public relations and an instructor in English. It was Terry’s wish to teach English and to become a published writer himself that returned him from the public relations office to the English department, where he rapidly rose through the ranks. He ended doctoral studies at Yale when he decided to concentrate on being a writer, and he spent the rest of his academic life with SMU as an endowed professor. He served two terms as chairman of the English department and was president of the faculty senate, associate provost, and founder of the English department’s creative writing program in 1975. For that latter accomplishment he took time off to attend Wallace Stegner’s well-established creative writing program at Stanford University. In 1975 Terry founded the SMU Literary Festival that became an annual event and brought the nation’s leading authors to the campus. He also founded SMU’s summer creative writing program at Fort Burgwin in Taos, New Mexico.

Terry’s first novel, Old Liberty was published in 1961 by Viking Press. Its success immediately proclaimed his debut as one of the state’s most important new writers. A positive review in the New York Times declared that Old Liberty was “a galvanic picture of contemporary college life in America” in which “hallowed themes are handled with a fresh, wild vigor.” Literary honors that followed were frequent and included induction in 1968 into the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL), an organization for which he served as president from 1977 to 1979 and continued to serve in a leadership capacity until 1988. In 1988 he was proclaimed the Southwest Writer of the Year.

His second novel, Tom Northway, its ninety-year-old titular character modeled after his own grandfather, brought TIL’s top prize for best novel, the Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Fiction Book, in 1969. The novel was the first entry in his “Northway Saga” series, which followed a family across a century of American history. Two other novels followed—My Father’s Hands (1992) and Land of Hope and Glory (1996)—and an anthology—The Memorialist (2006). His short story, “The Antichrist,” won TIL’s Short Story Award in 1973. In 1991 Terry was honored with TIL’s Lon Tinkle Award for Sustained Excellence in Texas Letters.

One of Terry’s novels, Angels Prostate Fall (2001), was based on his own thinly disguised experience as a prostate cancer sufferer. Other novels included Dallas Stories (1987), Ringer (1987), Tex Rex (2003), and The Murder of Milo (2007). Terry wrote two non-fiction books about SMU. “From High on the Hilltop…” was published in 1993 and revised in 2001 and 2009. The second, published in 2011, was entitled Loving U: The Story of a Love Affair (And Some Lovers’ Quarrels) with a University. Terry also worked as a literary critic for the Dallas Morning News

Terry’s longtime and intimate involvement in SMU’s affairs for six decades led to the familiar nickname, “Mr. SMU.” SMU president R. Gerald Turner, as he often joked when Terry was in his audience, described him as the only SMU faculty member who could remember the university’s founding president, Robert S. Hyer, who had held the office from 1911 to 1919. Terry was granted SMU’s Willis M. Tate Award in 1990 and 1994. SMU also awarded him a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1998, a Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 2007, and a Literati Award in 2012. Terry retired in 2007.

Marsh, as he was known by his friends, and his wife Toni, were congenial hosts for parties honoring visiting authors, SMU faculty members and students, and annual New Year’s Eve celebrations. The couple had two daughters, screenwriter Antoinette (Terry) Bryant and Mary Marshall (Terry) Benton.

Marshall Terry died at home on December 24, 2016, after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. A memorial service in his honor was held on January 20, 2017, in Perkins Chapel on the SMU campus. He was a Methodist.

Dallas Morning News, December 26, 2016. “Longtime SMU Educator Marshall Northway Terry, Jr. Has Died,” SMU News, December 24, 2016. Marshall Terry Papers, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University. “Terry, Marshall (Northway, Jr.) 1931-,” Encyclopedia.com (https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/terry-marshall-northway-jr-1931), accessed April 5, 2022.

  • Education
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  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
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  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
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Time Periods:
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  • Texas in the 21st Century
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Darwin Payne, “Terry, Marshall Northway, Jr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/terry-marshall-northway-jr.

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April 11, 2022
April 11, 2022

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