St. David's Episcopal Church
5050 Milton St.
San Diego, CA 92110
Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021
Terry Garate, mother of five and longtime member of St. David's Episcopal Church in Clairemont, died peacefully Dec. 10 with family members at bedside. She was 87.
Terry was known for her irreverent sense of humor, over-the-top frugality, passionately liberal political views, love of crafting, advocacy for children and the less fortunate, and her golden, five-octave-range singing voice.
Though Terry lived most of her life in San Diego, she remained fiercely proud of her English roots throughout life. She could recite lewd versions of English folk songs; make lemon curd, Shepherd's pie and English pancakes; and lead boisterous English singalongs for anyone who cared to join in.
Born in the Kensington neighborhood of London in 1933, Terry was the youngest of three children, raised by her father, Maurice Lewis, a London print reporter; and mother Frances Fairs, a classically trained pianist. For a time the family lived across the street from the famous British Museum, which employed Maurice's brother Alken, an archeologist involved in the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt.
One of Terry's earliest memories was sitting on Dad's lap, with the "Two Hounds" (brothers Bobby and Carol, the latter named after the Romanian monarch who had befriended Maurice) nearby, finding great hilarity in the manic ramblings of a pre-war Adolph Hitler on the family radio.
But family life would be altered forever in 1940 during the London Blitz, when a German bomber dropped its payload after the "all clear" signal had been announced, killing Maurice and Bobby and maiming Frances. Terry survived only because she and Carol had come down with measles and quarantined with relatives. For the rest of her life, Terry could hardly recall this event without grief.
Frances then married Dick Foster, an Anglican priest, whose ministry kept the family on the move throughout North America, including Detroit, where Terry graduated from high school, excelling in track and chorus. Other stops included Ontario and Vermont, where Frances died of complications from her injured leg.
Terry eventually wound up in South Florida, where she caught the attention of Peter Garate, a young professional jai alai player from the Basque region of Spain. The Garates married and headed west to San Diego in the late 1950s, and eventually purchased their Clairemont home in 1965. The family joined St. David's soon after, a membership Terry would maintain the rest of her life.
As a young mother, Terry enjoyed leading her children on hikes throughout San Diego's canyons and tidepools and campouts at La Jolla Indian Reservation, leaving them with a love and respect for nature at an early age. When her children were old enough for organized sports, Terry volunteered as scorekeeper for North Clairemont Little League, headed the Red Cross Backyard Swim program at Walt Whitman Elementary, and joined a successful fight against opportunistic developers to keep the former Gershwin Elementary property dedicated for family recreation. Later in life, Terry would make many friends among the morning regulars who walked their dogs at the spot known today as Gershwin Park.
Terry often remarked how her home was so often overrun with "wall-to-wall children," including around Christmas time, when Terry would show kids how to make wreaths from computer cards, edible gingerbread houses and other do-it-yourself projects converting scraps to gifts. Many neighborhood kids got their first experience Christmas caroling with Terry, ever-willing to share and express the joys and charm of England.
After her divorce in the mid-1970s, Terry found peace and fulfillment in San Diego's thriving piano bar scene. She worked for a time at the Caliph and Shelter Island Inn, and became well-known at the Gypsy Cellar, Red Fox, Salerno's and Westgate Hotel. Well into her 80s, she still made regular visits to Albee's and Shooters, where a now frail, wheelchair-bound Terry could still take a mic and reduce a crowded, noisy barroom to pin-drop silence.
After her children had grown, Terry offered her spare bedrooms to the Couchsurfing organization, filling a guestbook with new friends throughout the world. One visitor named Bruno, a neuroscientist from Brazil in town for a convention, returned the favor and arranged a front-row seat for Terry during Rio Carnival.
Terry also made several trips to Spain. Even after her ex-husband's death, Terry maintained remarkable relationships with Javier, Peter's brother; Javier's wife Maria Teresa, and their four children, Ana, Yolanda, Xabichu and Maite. One such trip to her Spanish family in Barcelona included granddaughter Nicole, who at first resented her Nan's stern reminders to chronicle the journey because "You'll appreciate it one day." Though many journal entries began with "I'm only writing because Nan's making me," Nicole now admits -- as was often the case -- Terry was right.
Mindful of the shortages and rationing during wartime England, Terry was instrumental in launching the St. David's Food Pantry and became one of its most dedicated volunteers, collecting surplus food from supermarkets and sorting and distributing goods to the community.
Terry accepted her declining health with dignity, refusing to engage in self-pity. When asked how she was, Terry enjoyed responding with her catchphrase, "Mean and ornery, as usual." She often said learning to take life less seriously, laugh at herself and "be outrageous" was one of her most significant life lessons. Almost equally satisfying -- fulfilling a vow to live long enough to vote Donald Trump out of office.
In recent years, with her mobility reduced, she became a master crafter on steroids. She spent many hours a day in her chair, usually with MSNBC on television in the background, producing dozens of bottles decorated with colored lighting, cardboard quilling, beads and carefully designed odds and ends enthusiastically collected by friends at church.
Terry leaves behind dozens of boxes of stuff her children have no idea what to do with, but they're grateful Terry's friends helped with her creative outlets.
Terry's kids are also grateful to the clergy and Grey Brigade at St. David's, as well as fellow members of the choir. As Terry's health and voice faltered late in life, singers helped out with transportation to Thursday practice, saved a spot on the choir platform for Terry's wheelchair and helped her work out snafus while fumbling to join choir practice via Zoom.
Terry is survived by her five children, Ana, Paul, Tony, Javi and Lisa; five grandchildren, Nicole, Derek, Ray, Brad and Megan; and one great-grandson, Dakota.