June 26, 2002 News & Features » Cover Story


Mary Sue Terry 

Former attorney general/lightning rod

But for now, no horse races. Terry, an alumna of the University of Richmond, earned her master's degree in government and a law degree from the University of Virginia before embarking on a political career.

She served five terms in the House of Delegates. She then became the first woman in Virginia to hold statewide office, serving as attorney general from 1986 to 1993. She was the second woman in the country to be elected a state attorney general. Terry, a Democrat, resigned as attorney general in January 1993 to run for governor against now-Sen. George Allen. She lost the election in a race that is now famous for Allen's come-from-behind victory.

Terry is happy to see Gov. Mark Warner in the executive mansion now. As for the Statehouse, she hopes that the two major political parties can "return to the type of civility and the capacity to work together that we had years ago, where there's mutual respect for the role that each party plays." Like a good marriage, she says, the parties should not run to divorce court every time there is a disagreement.

The capital is a long way from her home now, a 540-acre farm in Patrick County, in the Piedmont region of Southwest Virginia, hugging the North Carolina border. What led her here, she says, was deciding to leave a visiting professor position at the University of Richmond's Jepson School of Leadership Studies in May 2001.

"Over time," she says, "my consulting practice got decreasingly compatible with a six-class schedule." Without an institutional tie, she unexpectedly faced more options.

"I started thinking more and more about moving back to my home. And one thing led to another." The property on rolling hills had been in her mother's family's side since the Civil War. There are unrenovated log cabins on the farm, and some modest houses. She is renovating her house, and is working to retool the farm to generate revenue that can pay taxes and other property costs.

"I really enjoyed my years in public service," Terry says. "But I really like my life now." — Jason Roop

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