Grace: Job at courthouse offers independence, self-worth - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 2:55 pm
Grace: Job at courthouse offers independence, self-worth

Courthouse fixture Terry Moore Jr. is doing ... fantastic. “I should say, 'I'm doing fun-TAH-stick,'” the mail clerk says in his best British accent, while ripping open a box of copy paper. “I've got a bloody well right to say!” This cracks him up, and the 43-year-old drops his voice: “Bond. James Bond.” He laughs some more. And in the time it takes to count out three packets of white copy machine paper for the Douglas County Treasurer's Office, Terry covers considerable conversational ground. Movies. Weather. And a subject that is tireless for him: music.

His FAVORITE BEST band of all times is KISS and the best guitarist is Ace Frehley, which is why people call Terry “Ace,” but it's TOO BAD that Gene and Paul of Kiss got Ace kicked out, and that was a bad deal, just a BAD DEAL, but Terry did get to meet Paul, and he likes him, and he's cool, and he doesn't want to hurt Gene and Paul's feelings or, frankly, get them riled and stirred-up angry by talking about them.

Terry holds court in an out-of-sight, windowless corner in the basement of the City-County Building, where old license plates and pink car registration forms go to die, where toilet paper sits in 96-count boxes, where Terry spends a chunk of each weekday filling branch orders and sorting mail.

I almost wonder, as he waxes on about rock music minutiae with amazing accuracy and recall, why he's pushing paper for the county and not, say, working at a Homer's.

And then I remember, as quickly as I had forgotten, the answer.

The rare, developmental disorder called Williams syndrome. The labor-leader father who never bought the talk about his son having “limited potential.” The larger-than-life Douglas County politician who watched Terry Moore Jr. grow up.

Longtime County Treasurer Sam Howell took a chance on the then-20-year-old Benson High graduate who had few employment prospects.

And 23 years and four county treasurers later, Howell is dead, John Ewing is boss, and Terry Jr. has gray hair.

Today he is wearing a three-piece black suit, black shirt and patterned tie with a tiny gold Omaha police insignia pinned to his lapel.

He's got branch requisition orders to fill, property tax statements to fold and errands to run every time Sharlene the Administrative Coordinator rings his Scotch-taped pager.

“I shred paper out of the folders. And then I get another stack and go up and sort it into each separate pile and shred them the same way. I run errands. I do an accounting run. I do mail. They send it over to me. I deliver the UPS stuff, the Express Mail. I stuff mail. I open things and I sort it ...” he says. “I had SEVEN trays of mail yesterday. One-thousand, nine-hundred fifty return pieces. ONE-THOUSAND, NINE-HUNDRED FIFTY RETURNS!”

Terry earns an hourly wage, which, because he lives with his father and stepmother, goes toward gas in his gold Jeep and his addictions to Coca-Cola, which he's weaning himself off of, and music, which he'll never quit. Terry has an enviable collection, heavy on the heavy metal.

But this job, as jobs do, offers Terry something more than a paycheck.

It gives him independence, self-worth.

And at the sprawling downtown Douglas County Courthouse and City-County Building, he gets a one-of-a-kind fishbowl, where he greets any number of fresh faces and old friends in the course of a day — and in one case, a murder defendant he once shouted at: “WHY'D YOU DO IT?”

Not all people who encounter Terry are kind. Some don't take the time to get to know him. And the building and the crowds from many walks of life can also be a lonely place when your brain doesn't work like others'.

And so Terry, while knowing no stranger, is on the lookout for friends. And bullies.

For even adulthood can be a lot like high school, where “there were some that were nice to me in school. And some who weren't so nice.”

Yet at the courthouse, the nice ones seem to prevail.

They are guardian angels of sorts who look out for “T” or “The Terr,” as attorney Bill Eustice calls him endearingly. They take Terry to Cascio's for lunch, take him to concerts and, at least once, have taken him to his fender-bender-prone Jeep when he forgot where he parked.

It's not a one-way relationship, as bailiff Scott Srb is quick to say. Srb gets a sense that “I'm liked by him, and I like that feeling.”

Eustice, hospitalized four years ago for heart palpitations and an irregular heartbeat, was stunned to see a worried Terry at his bedside.

“He was a streak of light in the room: 'You all right? You all right?'” Eustice says, laughing.

Terry knows about heart issues. He takes several medications for his. It's one of the ironies of his disorder.

The roughly two dozen genes stripped off the long arm of chromosome 7 in utero defines the rare neurodevelopmental disorder, Williams syndrome.

Little was known or understood about it in 1961, when a scientist saw parallels in children who had heart problems, distinctive facial features and a paradoxical nature, characterized by a slower brain but well-developed language and social skills. It was seen as a type of mental retardation certainly in 1969, when Terry was born in Omaha, and in his childhood of the 1970s.

Terry Moore Sr. persisted in treatment, taking his son to a multitude of psychologists and other experts. Terry Jr. suffered heart and digestive problems as a baby, was in a full body brace for severe scoliosis for seven years. The brace could be removed only for baths or swimming. Terry had to wear special shoes.

Despite a teacher saying he would never read, Terry developed into a voracious reader who would go deep on subjects that interested him — say, the Egyptians.

The father recognized certain strengths in his son — a fearlessness of social situations, an adeptness with language, a warm-hearted, loving nature that attracted people to him. And so he nourished that by taking young Terry to every AFL-CIO and political event he could. At the same time, he wanted to gird his son against those who might take advantage of his innocence.

“I had to teach him how to survive, as any father would,” Terry Sr. said. “You want to make sure your son, if something happens to you, would be able to handle his own life.”

Terry Jr. did. He graduated from Benson High in 1988, whooping an exuberant, “I DID IT!” as he crossed the stage.

He got a restaurant job.

And then Howell, the county treasurer, gave Terry Jr. a chance to succeed.

“Otherwise, I wouldn't be here today,” says Terry. “I don't know where I'd be if this didn't happen.”

But the real credit, Terry Jr. says, goes to his dad. Who never gave up on him. Who always encouraged him. Who knew when to let go even when, as Terry Sr. said about letting his adult son hang out at Crossroads Mall, “it scared the hell out of me.”

The two are very close. They read the same books and usher at the same 8 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. John Catholic Church on the Creighton University campus.

“I couldn't be any more proud,” Terry Sr. says of his son. “If he became president of the United States, I couldn't be more proud.”

These many years later, Terry Jr. is as much a part of the social fabric of the courthouse complex as its judges, lawyers and clerks, many of them characters themselves.

But I'd bet only one of them could name all the members of Mötley Crüe and Duran Duran, tell you which 1990s industrial band covered New Order's “Blue Monday” and have in his possession an autograph — thanks to his buddy Bill Eustice, who collected it when Terry Jr. was too sick to go — from one Ozzy Osbourne.

“Remember when we got that button that flashed?” Bill asked Terry, recalling the time they went to see Paul McCartney.

But Terry was remembering back further than that. To a day early in his courthouse work life when he met the affable attorney.

“You said, 'Hi,' to me,” Terry told him. “And I said, 'Hi' back.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1136, erin.grace@owh.com, twitter.com/ErinGraceOWH

Contact the writer: Erin Grace

erin.grace@owh.com    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

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