MR. JESSE LAWRENCE TERRELL was born on June 3, 1939, in St. Louis, Missouri, to Jesse Lee and Lucille (Stewart) Terrell. He was the eldest son of this union, which produced seven children. His parents and all of his siblings preceded him in death.
Jesse attended St. Louis public schools and graduated from Hadley Tech High School in 1957. Upon graduation, he entered the U.S. Marine Corps on June 20, 1957. He was an outstanding soldier, earning a Good Conduct Award and the rank of E-2. While in the military, Jesse had a brief marriage that ended before he was discharged.
In the Spring of 1962, Jesse met a woman named Mary Brown, whom he would marry on February 21, 1963. To this union, three children were born, Cletus, Clifford, and David Terrell. Jesse’s family brought him so much joy as he didn’t have children in his previous marriage. He loved fatherhood and enjoyed the company of his three sons, teaching them baseball, bowling, fishing, and chess. As a father, Jesse was a PTA member at his children’s school, St. Matthew Lutheran, as he believed education, with parent involvement, was the path to their future success.
After being honorably discharged from the military on June 19, 1963, Jesse landed the job he would love for a lifetime. In 1964, he joined the St. Louis Fire Department. His original assignment was Engine House #3 at S. Broadway and Miami. At the time he was hired, he was the only African-American at that firehouse, and it proved to be a challenge as he did not like the adverse treatment he received while on duty. That treatment led Jesse and the other black firefighters to establish the organization F.I.R.E., Fight-fighters Institute for Racial Equality. Having been a founding member of this organization, Jesse and the other black firefighters were the catalysts that would eventually change the way the St. Louis Fire Department hired, retained, promoted, and disciplined members of their organization. He helped spearhead numerous legal battles, successfully ensuring fair treatment and promotion rates among African-Americans in the Department. He would see the fruits of his labor, work ethic, and accomplishments with F.I.R.E. in 1980 when he was promoted to Fire Captain. In 1993, he retired from the St. Louis Fire Department but continued his activities as a member of F.I.R.E., as the work was not done.
In 1988, while working on his house, Jesse was introduced to Evelyn Dodd by her daughter. Little did Evelyn’s daughter know, they already knew each other, having been classmates in high school. The union between Evelyn and Jesse would last a lifetime, as the two were inseparable. The couple enjoyed a long, loving partnership for many decades, cherishing each other’s company. They each and sharing a love for fishing, travel, and long drives to various bodies of water.
After retirement, Jesse took great interest in the education of his children, grandchildren, and every man, woman, and child in his family. He started a weekly reading program at Julia Davis Library and taught many to read, write, and properly express themselves. His program boasted a 100% high school graduation rate, and almost everyone who was a part of it going to and graduating from college. Jesse was always working towards a better life for his family. Throughout his life, Jesse was loved by his immediate and extended family members for his contributions to their successes. He had a passion for reading, gardening, fishing, and the tv game show Jeopardy. His booming voice was his signature, and it was so intimidating he was nicknamed “Lord Vader.”
In the early morning of January 2, 2021, Jesse Lawrence Terrell departed this life. He leaves to mourn: his partner, Evelyn Dodd; children, Cletus Terrell, Cliff ord Terrell, and David Terrell; ex-wife, Mary Terrell; nieces, Myra Terrell, Angie Lucas, Mary Stewart, and Lucy Stewart; nephew, Eric Stewart; 11 grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and a host of cousins and friends.
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