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In Memoriam: Terry Demezas

In Memoriam: Terry Demezas

July 17, 1953 – December 16, 2004

by Eric Meyer

Originally published in American Lutherie #81, 2005 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie, Volume Seven, 2015

Terry Demezas died unexpectedly on December 16, 2004. The call from Vicky Demezas left me stunned. My associations with Terry reach back twenty-five years.

That night when I had time to think about it all, memories started flooding in. I first saw him bent over an ailing guitar at Kent Rayman’s shop sometime in the early 1980s when I was trying to get my own repair business going in Portland, Oregon. Terry was a tall guy and he always had trouble with normal-sized workbenches. I’ve been storing his oversized bench in my shop for years. In what proved to be our last conversation, he said that he was going to reclaim it and get back into guitar building. That’s the way that I think of him. He changed hats many times in his too-short life but he approached each metamorphosis with energy and thoroughness. He had the soul of a responsible gypsy.

When I flaked off and ran away to Europe, Terry ran my shop for me. When I returned, I asked him to keep running it. Over the ensuing years we’ve kept in contact, and he would tell me of his current projects and loves. I remember very well when he fell in love with Mexico and Vicky, and brought her back to Portland. He started a cultural exchange, “sister city” program with a small town near Vera Cruz that went on for many years and changed the lives and awareness of folks from both places. I remember him telling me of how Bob Lundberg’s beautiful and blond daughter, Branwyn, caused much distraction in the local boys. I wish I had participated, but my gypsy days were over.

Photo by Cathy Monroe.

He was alternately an archery bow manufacturer, a guitar maker again, a nursing student, and a hospice nurse. Through all of these later times he was a fisherman and that was probably why I was there to hear of all the changes in his life. He would call me up and lure me out of my basement shop with the promise of a ride to the Deschutes River and a day of fly-fishing. We had two hours each way of philosophy and catching up, and dinner at the Warm Springs Café. In the last two years his news really astounded me.

For his fiftieth birthday Terry decided to give away one of his kidneys. He found a stranger on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation who needed one and that was that. I imagine a few folks tried to talk him out of that one, but he persisted. One was evidently enough for him. Next, I get a call from Bob Steinegger asking me to make mastodon-ivory bridge pins for a totally tricked-out guitar that Terry was ordering for an old friend. When Steiny and I drove to Salem, Oregon, for Terry’s funeral service, we met the guy. The gift had come out of the blue.

We grieved with Vicky and Terry’s much loved daughter Myriam. Chris Brandt had gotten the news and was there. We talked about trying to round up one of Terry’s earlier guitars, but we didn’t know where to start to look. Michael O’Dohmnaill may still have one in Ireland. Vicky and Terry had parted ways as friends many years before and he was engaged to marry again. He was teaching his future adopted son to play the Beatles.

Terry was a better fly fisherman than I am. In his extra-long green waders he looked like Gumby. He would work a spot on the river for all it had to give, often finding its hidden prizes behind submerged rocks. When the spot didn’t pan out he would move on. I’d still be flagellating the same stretch, sure that if I found the right pattern, a fish would find me. When I finally looked up Terry was somewhere around the bend, long gone, exploring a new place. I probably won’t be fishing as much now that he is gone.