Charles L. Terry, Jr., was the son of a fruit broker and the grandson of a ship captain. He was born in Camden, Delaware on September 17, 1900. After completing his college education at Swarthmore and Virginia, he received his law degree from Washington and Lee.
Chief Justice Terry's public life began with part-time service as attorney for Kent County Levy Court from 1926 to 1930 and attorney for the House of Representatives in 1931 and 1932. In 1937 he was appointed secretary of state by Governor Richard Cann McMullen. Later the following year, Governor McMullen named Chief Justice Terry to the Superior Court. He was reappointed to that position in 1950 by Governor Elbert N. Carvel, during the first of Carvel's two non-consecutive terms. Governor J. Caleb Boggs named Terry president judge of the Superior Court in 1957. Chief Justice Terry suffered his first heart attack shortly after his appointment as president judge. He recovered and became the dominant figure of the trial bench.
Between 1938 and 1951, before the separate Supreme Court was formed, Terry was also a judge of the Supreme Court. He sat in the 1939 landmark corporate fiduciary case of Guth v. Loft and in 1945, wrote the landmark equity case of Glanding v. Industrial Trust Company establishing the constitutional nature of Chancery jurisdiction.
He was appointed to the separate Supreme Court by Governor Elbert N. Carvel in 1962. Governor Carvel named him to become the second chief justice the next year. In 1963, Terry wrote a decision that held a private restaurant owner could not call upon the state to assist in private racial discrimination.
Chief Justice Terry's judicial service was marked by numerous administrative as well as judicial accomplishments. He started the use of law clerks in Delaware, instituted statewide judges' meetings, lobbied for and achieved court expansion, and helped form the National Conference of State Trial Judges and the National College of State Trial Judges.
While Chief Justice Terry's service on the separate Supreme Court was the pinnacle of his long judicial career, it was only a modest part of his service to the State of Delaware over a continuous thirty-two year period from 1937 to 1969. He left the court in 1963 when, at the urging of Governor Carvel, the Democratic Party drafted Terry as its candidate for governor. He was elected over his friend, then-Attorney General David P. Buckson. Terry's gubernatorial years are recounted in the recent Delaware Heritage Commission publication by Ned Davis. His accomplishments as governor included further court expansion and, most importantly, reform of the Justice of the Peace Courts.
During October of his 1968 re-election campaign, Chief Justice Terry suffered his second heart attack and, while the vote was close, the re-election campaign was unsuccessful. Chief Justice Terry's public service ended on January 21, 1969, when he gubernatorial term expired. He died a year thereafter, on February 6, 1970, when he suffered a third heart attack.
Chief Justice Terry married Jessica Irby in 1924. They lived at 448 North State Street during their entire married life, except the brief period of residence at Woodburn, the governor's house, purchased during the Terry Administration. The Terrys are survived by a son, Charles III, the retired head of the English Department at Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.