When Maitland resident Jean Griffin reflects on the life of her late husband, Terry, one thing is for certain: He never met a stranger.
Popular mystery author, semi-retired lawyer, man about town and Maitland local H. Terrell “Terry” Griffin died Thursday, Feb. 21, at 76. He leaves behind a body of written works that includes the renowned Matt Royal mystery series.
The books by the bestselling author focus on a rough-and-tumble retired lawyer named Matt Royal, his ragtag group of friends, the many adventures they faced and mysteries they solved. Terry’s stories took place in real locations in Florida — mainly Longboat Key, where Terry and Jean vacationed together.
He even based many of his characters on actual people he met on Longboat. The friends that he made often became immortalized in the pages of his books.
“He liked to talk to people — he was very outgoing,” said Bob Gussin, CEO and co-founder of Oceanview Publishing, the Sarasota-based company that released Terry’s Matt Royal series. “Terry, at that point in his life, liked to sit in some of the local bars, and he knew everybody and talked to everybody while he had a beer.
“He had an approach to writing where he actually used really people as characters in some of the books, and he used their names,” he said. “You’d walk into a restaurant, and a waitress says, ‘Hey you’re Terry’s publishers — I’m so-and-so, and I’m in his book.’ It gave him a lot of attention locally.”
Terry was born Sept. 6, 1942, in Waycross, Georgia. When he was 12 years old, his family moved to Sanford, and Terry graduated in 1960 from Seminole High School.
He then served his country in the U.S. Army — stationed in Frankfort, Germany — and after his service attended Mercer University, where he met his wife.
Terry graduated in 1966 and then in 1968 from Mercer Law School before moving to Orlando with Jean and their son, Greg.
Terry enjoyed a long career as a civil trial lawyer, practicing for almost 50 years. It was during his semi-retirement that Terry began to purse his passion for writing.
“He wanted a little extra to do — he’s not a person that would be happy just to do nothing in retirement,” Jean said. “He always liked to write and thought he might like to write novels.”
Terry went on to write about 12 books, with three self-published.
The most recent novel, “Vindication,” was released by Oceanview Publishing last November.
Terry’s passing came two years after receiving a double lung transplant for his ongoing battle with pulmonary fibrosis.
Jean said she was thankful to everyone who had been so supportive over the past two years — including the many friends they made in Maitland.
“We’ve lived in Maitland for a long time, and we just loved the wonderful family feeling of a small town and knowing so many people for so long,” Jean said. “They were all comforting to us when he went though his illness and very encouraging. A lot of prayers were said. That really helped us through his last few years.”
Maitland resident and Orlando attorney Richard Wright, who practiced law with Terry over the span of several decades, said his dear friend’s affable nature helped him to succeed wherever he went.
“Terry could do a direct or cross examination of a brain surgeon and appear to know the subject matter as well as he did, and then he could sit down on a park bench and have a nice conversation with a homeless person — and I’ve seen him do both and everybody in-between,” Wright said. “I think that, in part, is what made him such a successful attorney — because he literally could communicate with anybody. He continued that ability in his novel writing by assuming another mode of communication: the written word. … I miss him, and I love him dearly.”
Jean fondly remembers Terry not only as a storyteller but also as that warm personality who loved to meet new people.
“He was remarkable in that he made a friend wherever he went,” Jean said. “I feel like we had a rich, full life because we got to know so many people from all over.”
Terry is survived by his loving wife of almost 55 years, Jean; three sons, Greg, Chris and Mike; daughter-in-law Judy; grandchildren Kyle and Sarah; brother Tommy (Nancy); sister Nancy (Tim); and several nieces, nephews and cousins.