Real Estate Icon Ellen Terry Dies at 85

Ellen Terry, a leader in the Dallas real estate industry remembered as much for her kindness and generosity as for her success, died on June 12 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. She was 85.

“She just had a love for mentoring people and a love for motivating people,” her son, Todd Terry, said. “And because of that, she really put people first. And I think people felt that in their lives.”

Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, where Terry ended a career that spanned four decades, presents a mentorship award named in Terry’s honor annually to agents who embody her spirit.

Terry “was the true queen of real estate, but so much more,” Briggs Freeman founder Robbie Briggs wrote on his Facebook page. “She was full of life, love, wisdom, kindness, positivity, energy, laughter, spirit, hope, and a willingness to share it all with everyone. She may have been a tiny physical package but she was bigger than life.”

Terry’s journey toward a landmark career in real estate started unexpectedly when a tow-truck driver rang her doorbell during a Junior League of Dallas meeting to tell her that he was repossessing her Mercedes.

“I was in total shock,” Terry told People Newspapers in 2013. “I had absolutely no idea that we couldn’t afford the lifestyle that we were living.” 

Terry sent her two children to live with their grandparents and gave up her Highland Park home. The former Hockaday teacher worked for a travel agency for a year before deciding to try her hand at selling homes. 

Her first sale was to a former student, and her second to the couple who had vacated the home bought by the student, earning Terry $25,000 in commission in her first month. 

After her auspicious start, Terry’s success continued to grow. She opened a firm in 1979 with two partners, then formed her own company, Ellen Terry Realtors, two years later. 

In 1995, she teamed up with real-estate maven Ebby Halliday, who told People Newspapers in 2013 that she held Terry in “highest esteem” and cited her work ethic and quality as “top of my list.”

In 2011, Terry joined forces with Briggs Freeman, where Kay Wood, a realtor who was one of Terry’s mentees, remembered her as having “a twinkle in her eye and a great sense of humor.”

“It’s not an easy business, and it’s a lot of times not fun,” Wood said, “but she made it fun.”

When Wood needed to double her sales while her husband’s new business got off the ground, she went to Terry for help. Terry took Wood to lunch, picked up the tab, and helped Wood write a business plan.

“I did everything she told me to do, and I doubled my business in the next 12 months,” Wood said. “I really, really didn’t think that was possible, but Ellen knew it was, and she told me how to do it, and I did it.”

Terry also received numerous awards and honors for her philanthropic efforts. Her service work included creating the Awareness Hour to educate parents, teachers and teens on substance abuse, founding the Ellen Terry Realtors Ladies Golf Classic benefitting The Genesis Women’s Shelter, and supporting AWARE Dallas, which is dedicated to fighting Alzheimer’s disease, according to her obituary.

Todd Terry said his mother managed to stay focused on her family, despite the demands of her career. “She was such a hard worker,” he said, “but yet she really loved her kids.” She is survived by two children, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild, according to her obituary.

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