HELENA — Terry James Speelmon was born in Baker, Mont., on New Year's Day, 1950, the only son of Wayne and Dorothy Speelmon. He passed away on Wednesday, Nov. 24, at his home in Helena, surrounded by friends who had gathered to send him on his way with their love.
Within two weeks of his his birth, Terry had begun a life-long struggle with a crippling syndrome called arthrigriposis multiforma congenita, which affected every joint in his body. The family moved to Billings in 1953, in part because of the medical care that was available there. Despite a childhood fraught with surgeries, casts, braces, and extended hospital stays, Terry was a happy boy who didn't let his handicaps prevent him from living a more-or-less normal life, making accommodations where needed. He played games with the neighborhood children, drove himself to school on a motorized scooter, maintained good grades, and considered himself the ruler of his home kingdom, often to the chagrin of his older sisters.
Terry attended Burlington Elementary School, Lewis and Clark Junior High, and Billings West High until his junior year, when the family moved to Great Falls. He graduated from Great Falls High in 1968, and that fall began his freshman year at Eastern Montana College in Billings. Later, he transferred to the University of Montana. He married Joy McIntyre in 1970 and dropped out of school to take on the responsibilities of adult life, but the marriage lasted less than five years.
During the ensuing years, Terry worked at a variety of jobs, living in Missoula, Billings, Great Falls, and finally, Helena. Again, he fought to overcome his handicaps, even working as a mine inspector for a period of time. That experience and his love of the outdoors gave him a life-long interest in mine reclamation. He enjoyed fishing with his dad, panning for gold, and traveling. During the course of his life, he underwent more than fifty surgeries which enabled him to walk and to use his hands more effectively, but as he grew older, his physical condition grew progressively worse. Ultimately he became completely disabled and unable to work or to do the many outdoor activities he enjoyed. In the last five years of his life, he lost the ability to walk, then to sit up, and then to use his hands. What he never lost, even in his last critical illness, was his courage, his ability to appreciate life, and the sassiness that gave his personality an edge. He rarely complained about the pain he endured or the limitations his condition brought him. When asked why he didn't, his answer was," One, it doesn't change anything, and two, nobody wants to hear it." It was that attitude more than anything else that defined his character. In terms of the friendships he made and maintained, the admiration and respect he earned, and the toughness he displayed all through his life, Terry was a man to be honored and his life was a success. He will be missed by his many friends and by all whose life he touched.
Terry was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by two sisters: Sharon (Bill) Waite and Lana Cummins of Billings; a niece Brenda Waite, of Ewing, N. J., who was like a sister to him; and several nephews: Mitchell Waite of Denver, Colo., Mark (Pamela) Waite, Matthew (Tami) Waite, and Todd Loughrie, all of Billings, and Jim Loughrie of Granada Hills, Calif. He was great uncle to five children.
Cremation has taken place, but deferring to Terry's wishes, no formal funeral services will be held. Instead, a picnic in his honor will be held at one of his favorite recreational spots when weather permits.