Warren Bergen "Bill" Terry Sr., a self-made multi-millionaire whose business interests over the years included Coca-Cola bottling plants throughout the country, a chain of Long John Silver restaurants in Illinois, horse farms and hotels, died Wednesday at Pine Meadows Health Care. He was 91.
Mr. Terry, who enjoyed his privacy, was not especially well known to many Lexingtonians. But he had a major impact on Lexington, where he spent a big part of his life, as well as the surrounding area. He was perhaps best known locally as the former president of Blue Grass Coca-Cola Bottling Co., owner of Domino Stud horse farm, and the developer who headed up the building of the Marriott Resort at Griffin Gate.
"A lot of people around here didn't know him because he traveled around quite a bit," said Bruce Cotton, a former Transylvania University vice president, who had worked for Mr. Terry in his development business.
"His aim in life, like all generous people, was to make Lexington a better place to live," Cotton said. Mr. Terry had a big heart and gave generously to charities, he added.
When the Old Morrison building on the Transylvania campus burned in 1969, Mr. Terry began a fund-raising effort to restore it. The first monetary contribution to the campaign was his.
In 1984, Mr. Terry gave $250,000 to the Child Development Center of Lexington.
But much of his giving was not so public. He put several area children through college, including children of waitresses at restaurants he frequented and built, said his son, Timothy E.N. Terry of Lexington.
"He certainly enjoyed sharing his success by helping other people achieve an opportunity to have their own success," the younger Terry said. "He just didn't make a big deal about it."
Mr. Terry, who grew up "absolutely dirt poor," had another main goal in his life, and that was to take care of his family, Cotton said.
Mr. Terry was born Aug. 11, 1918, in a timber camp near Patoka, Ill., the oldest of nine children. His formal education did not extend beyond high school, but Mr. Terry, who was taught to read by his mother when he was 4, had one advantage over most people — a photographic memory, especially when it came to numbers.
"You could give him a set of numbers and he could chew them up and spit them out, and others would still be looking at them," Cotton said. "He was talented that way."
Mr. Terry also had a good head for business and was not averse to hard work, according to those who knew him.
He always had a job, sometimes two or three at the same time, beginning when he became a newspaper carrier at age 9. When he was 12, he got a job selling popcorn in a movie theater. Later, on weekends and during summer vacations he worked at a Chase & Sanborn Coffee Co. warehouse.
After high school graduation, he worked at a truck stop, then for oil industry-related businesses in Texas and Louisiana. He decided to look for a job in another field after a section of pipe he was attempting to move broke, leaving him with a crushed chest and punctured lung. That decision led to a decades-long relationship with Coca-Cola.
Mr. Terry was hired by Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Corpus Christi, Texas, as a route-salesman and bookkeeper in 1937, when he was 19. In 1941, he was promoted to general manager of the plant and manager of several ranches owned by the bottling company owner.
In 1948, he was part of a small group of investors who purchased the Coca-Cola bottling operation in San Jose, Calif. Mr. Terry later bought more bottling plants, including several in Kentucky, which led to the creation of one of the top 20 independent bottling companies in the country. He bought and sold about 31 bottling plants during his career.
In addition to Griffin Gate, Mr. Terry was instrumental in the building of the Lexington Hilton Inn and the Louisville Hyatt Regency Hotel.
He was tapped for leadership roles in several organizations, serving on the Transylvania University Board of Curators, University of Kentucky and Sayre School boards of trustees, UK Development Council, local and state Chamber of Commerce boards of directors, and Lexington Economic Development Commission executive committee.
In addition to his son, Timothy Terry, Mr. Terry, the widower of Frances LaVerne Schnasse Terry, is survived by three other sons, Warren B. Terry Jr. of The Hills, Texas, and S. Patrick Terry and W. Michael Terry, both of Lexington; three brothers; four sisters; 16 grandchildren; and 23 great-grandchildren.
A private funeral service is being planned. Memorial gifts are suggested to Southern Hills United Methodist Church, Blue Grass Council of the Boy Scouts of America, or the W.B. Terry Scholarship Fund at Transylvania University. W.R. Milward Mortuary — Broadway is handling arrangements.