Ellen Terry will never forget the afternoon that changed her life forever.
She was hosting a meeting for the Junior League of Dallas when her doorbell rang. But instead of a late member, a tow-truck driver stood on her front stoop and informed her that he was repossessing her Mercedes.
“I was in total shock,” Terry said. “I had absolutely no idea that we couldn’t afford the lifestyle that we were living.”
The family was forced to move immediately into a modest cottage, but after confronting her former husband, she discovered that things were much worse than she had expected. So she sent her two kids to live with grandparents and gave up a Highland Park home for an efficiency.
“It was a great leveler for me,” Terry said. “I thought that I was just going to raise my children, but suddenly I had to find a career.”
The former Hockaday teacher worked for a travel agency for a year, but struggled to make ends meet before deciding to try her hand at selling homes. Her first commission came from an unlikely-but-familiar source.
“I was waiting at a red light in my 12-year-old army green vehicle, when a former student pulled up next to me in a 500 SL Mercedes,” Terry said. “She pushed a button to roll her window down, and I had to crank mine down by hand.”
Terry told the student she was entering the real estate market and asked if she knew anyone looking to buy. As it turns out, the student needed a place to live, and Terry sold the woman her first house — fewer than 30 days after Terry entered the business.
Her second sale was to the couple who had vacated the first residence, with Terry making $25,000 commission in her first month. The rest, as they say, is history.
In 1979, Terry opened a firm with Bettie Abio and Lynda Adleta, just three years after she entered the industry. Two years later, Terry formed her own company, Ellen Terry Realtors, and left selling to manage her business.
She grew her firm to 50 employees before joining forces in 1995 with real-estate maven Ebby Halliday. The union, known as “the best of the big join[ing] with the best of the boutique,” allowed Terry to return to her true passion: selling.
“I was so happy to get back into the sales world,” Terry said. “To sell real estate makes my socks roll up and down.”
Halliday, Terry’s personal mentor, said she holds her in the “highest esteem,” citing her work ethic and quality as “top of my list.”
Terry, who said her firm has sold more than $5.5 billion in her 37 years in the industry, joined forces in 2011 with Briggs Freeman Sotheby’s International Realty, where she serves as the executive vice president.
More important to her than her sales figures, however, are her philanthropic efforts. Over the years, she’s given back to numerous causes and organizations, including CASA, Genesis Women’s Shelter, the Family Place, and the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas. She’s a sustaining member of the Junior League of Dallas as well as the Crystal Charity Ball Committee, and she’s received countless honors and awards for her efforts.
“Helping people has always been important to me,” Terry said. “I had a lot of people who were very good to me, and I believe that we need to be very giving to our communities.”
Camille Brennan, a vice president of Briggs Freeman, said Terry’s accomplishments are more lengthy than she’ll admit.
“Ellen has done so much in this industry, and for so many people,” Brennan said. “But she’s very modest; you won’t hear her singing her own praises.”
Though it would take pages to recount Terry’s career, her longevity as a Realtor can be summed up quite simply, Terry said:
“I love people, and I love pretty houses.”