Some heroes rush into burning buildings to pull people out of harms way. There are other heroes who perform incredible acts of courage through the power of a hug. Our community has suffered a tragic loss. Long-time activist, Terry DeCarlo, passed away from complications from stage-4 neck cancer on January 28, 2020.
Terry grew up in Bethpage, New York and after graduating High School, he enlisted into the United States Air Force where he became an intelligence operations officer for the Strategic Air Command’s 349th Air Refueling Squadron. He went on to get his Bachelors Degree in Public Relations and Communications.
In the early stages of the AIDS crisis in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Terry was part of ACTUP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which was an international advocacy group that worked to help the lives of people living with HIV, during a time when people were still dying of this terrible disease. It was then that he moved to South Florida.
He has held many important positions throughout his career. From working as Director of Marketing for Vencor Marketing to running a successful local television show with his partner Bill Huelsman, named “Out & About South Florida”, Terry always had his special flare for giving presentations and managing promotional events. After leaving Vencor, he took leading roles in the LGBT Center in Fort Lauderdale, and later, became the Director of Development at Broward House. Shortly thereafter, Terry and Bill got married on December 15, 2012, in a lovely ceremony held under the Christmas tree at the Times Square ice-skating rink.
Terry always had a cause to fight, whether it was fighting against the antiquated rules governing a gay men’s right to donate blood, fighting for gay rights and equality, or battling hurricanes at operation centers during emergency situations. It didn’t matter the cause, Terry always had his microphone ready, flashy sparkling jackets that amazed onlookers, his big smile, booming voice and quick wit, which helped him become one of the most well-known and respected members of the Fort Lauderdale community, raising thousands of dollars at each event he produced to help people in need.
Who could have foreseen, that Terry speaking at these fun “Broward Bares It” events held at the Hard Rock Hotel, or getting up in front of a crowded bar to entice donations from drunk patrons, would be preparing him for one of his most difficult career moves. Terry took a position as Executive Director of The Center, an LGBT community service organization in Orlando, where he was thriving, until that one awful day.
At 5:53am on June 12, 2016, the Orlando police department posted on their Twitter account, “Pulse Shooting: The shooter inside the club is dead.” The gunman had taken 53 lives and wounded dozens of others, leaving the Orlando community stunned and shocked to find out that they were the victims of one of the worst mass shootings in history.
As Executive Director of The Center, Terry and his husband Bill, were instrumental in the community’s recovery operations, stepping in immediately to help in the days and weeks following the shooting. Being the community liaison with the local government, Terry helped organize therapists and counselors for those affected by the tragedy. Always there to provide a hug and some helpful words of hope, Terry, once again, became a hero by supporting so many people.
Even though Terry had already planned to return to South Florida and leave The Center, Terry and Bill realized that their community needed them to stay and continue their difficult work of helping them recover. But it wasn’t just the Orlando community that was hurting. The Pulse Massacre caused massive pain throughout the country and the entire globe. Terry and Bill shared their message of hope through the airwaves and across the country to places like Aspen, Colorado, and traveled the world with the task force for the One Pulse Foundation speaking about Orlando, the world’s response to the Pulse tragedy, how they are recovering, and how other cities must be prepared for such an attack.
Through this experience, they had the pleasure of being invited to meet personally with Hillary Clinton, former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Senator Bill Nelson, to name just a few. Terry and Bill made the decision to return home to South Florida, return to their company, WHTN Productions, and promote their fundraising events in Wilton Manors, while continuing to fight against guns and violence.
On February 14, 2018, a student at Stoneman Douglas High School entered and began firing round after round at fellow students and teachers, causing a wide-spread panic. Two weeks after the deadly Parkland shooting, Terry, Bill, and many other caring people came together to help them go back to school, on Sunday, February 25, 2018, to begin their long recovery process. Along with them, the media, parents, supporters, as well as 17 Guardian Angels. Terry had organized people dressed as angels with large white wings, numbering 17 to represent the 17 faculty and students who lost their lives, each there to welcome them and help ease their pain.
In an interview, he explained that their goal for these Angel’s wings was to travel the world with them, taking them to other scenes of mass shootings and disasters so survivors can “know angels are looking over them and protecting them.” He continued, “I want to pack these wings away. Never to come out again. Unfortunately they keep coming out!”
After all they had been through, Terry’s battles would not be over just yet. Even through all this heartache and hardship, even after all the amazing things he had done for others over the years, one foe could not be beaten. While Terry and Bill were going on about their daily lives, planning fundraising events like the 3rd Annual Wilton Manors Drag Race and the Amazing Race to support The SMART Ride, when everything had to be put on hold. A very concerned dentist warned Terry to seek immediate care. He saw a doctor and he was diagnosed with cancer and on September 14, 2019, Terry and Bill made the announcement on Facebook. With hopes high and the best doctors by their side, Terry began treatment immediately and began to fight this physical enemy. As he so eloquently phrased it on his post, “Fuck Cancer!” Terry and Bill were pumped up to fight it, but after a few short months, the aggressive tumors and several complications proved too much for Terry’s weakened body to handle.
While the community rallied, donations poured in to their GoFundMe account to help pay for their looming bills, articles were written in newspapers all over the globe and the world stood up to help support Terry. On Tuesday, January 28, 2020, Terry’s love of his life had to make the announcement that has saddened us all.
As you can clearly see, Terry’s life has taken many turns and had many ups and some serious downs, but through it all, he has had his true love by his side and their amazing partnership has spawned many positive outcomes. So while Terry may not have been a fireman or a police officer, putting his life on the line on a daily basis, Terry’s life has been a blessing to so many others. All of the hard work and fighting he has done against AIDS and issues affecting our community, has made Terry one of our community’s true heroes.
CELEBRATIONS OF LIFE PLANNED
For those of you in South Florida who would like to share your condolences, there will be a Celebration of Life, held on Sunday, February 16, from 2 to 6pm at Richardson State Park in Wilton Manors. There will be music by DJ Herbie James, as well as cocktails served. More information is available on the Facebook Event page. Richardson Historic Park is located at 1937 Wilton Drive in Wilton Manors.
UPDATED: If you are in the Central Florida area, there is a Celebration of Life planned for Terry on Wednesday, February 26, at 6:30pm, at MEZZ, located at 100 S. Eola Drive #100, just a few blocks from the originally planned location at the Lake Eola Bandshell.
A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER
On a personal note, Terry was my first boss at Vencor Marketing in Fort Lauderdale when I first moved here in 1998 from Miami. I learned a lot from Terry about PR and marketing. Who knows where I would be today if Terry hadn’t hired me back then. Looking back on our 25 years of friendship, I will always remember Terry being absolutely “Super” with his ability to get up on stage and make people laugh and get the crowd’s attention. As a marketing professional myself, I hope that I can channel that same energy and find a bit of Terry’s strength inside myself, so that I too, will be able to get up on stage and speak in front of crowds and enjoy helping others as much as he did. A mentor… A teacher… A friend and hero to so many. You’ll be very missed and we’ll all keep an eye out for Bill, as he did for you. – DG