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Government & Politics

Architect of Modern State GOP Dies

Joyce Lyons Terhes, a former chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party who elevated the state GOP to new levels of competitiveness and relevance, died late last week following a lengthy illness. She was 78.

Terhes was a political trailblazer, becoming the first Republican elected to the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners, where she served from 1986 to 1994. After a stint as chairwoman of the county Republican central committee, she was elected to lead the Maryland GOP in 1991, and remained chairwoman until 1998.

Joyce Lyons Terhes

During that period, Maryland Republicans gained a measure of respectability after being dormant for decades, holding half of the state’s eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and coming within a hair of winning the gubernatorial election in 1994 after being shut out since 1966. The Republicans during this period also made significant gains in the Legislature and at the local level, as Terhes worked to build the party’s grass-roots operation.

“I can confidently say that she was the architect of the strong and growing Republican Party that we see today,” said Dirk Haire, the current state GOP chairman.

Terhes was a strong and focused partisan, but served with a level of gentility and grace that is often missing from today’s politics. She helped keep the party together in 1994 following an ideologically charged gubernatorial primary between conservative Ellen R. Sauerbrey and the establishment favorite, Helen Delitch Bentley, which Sauerbrey won in an upset. Sauerbrey then came within 6,000 votes of winning the general election.

Terhes’ work helped pave the way for the victory of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in the 2002 gubernatorial election, ending the Republicans’ 36-year drought in the state’s top office.

“She drove the party with a strong vision, political shrewdness, and uncompromising determination,” said Jim Burton, a Republican pollster and strategist who served as the state GOP’s executive director under Terhes.

Friends recall Terhes being certain to remember personal details about people’s lives, and that attribute helped keep party activists motivated.

“Not only was she a great Republican leader, but she cared about each and every Republican as a person,” Haire recalled. “Without fail, every time I would see Joyce, she would ask about my family and how my young kids were doing, which was a personal touch not often seen in today’s leaders.”

More recently, Terhes relocated to Montgomery County and served as a Republican national committeewoman for Maryland.

Terhes was born in Dunkirk on June 21, 1940. She attended Calvert County Public Schools and later graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia. She was a longtime middle and high school government studies teacher in Calvert County.

Terhes was married to Warner Paul Terhes, who preceded her in death. She is survived by a sister, Shirley Lyons Parker, a brother-in-law, John H. Parker IV, and several nieces and nephews.

A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Monday at Oakdale Emory United Methodist Church, 3425 Emory Church Road in Olney. A reception will follow at Leisure World in the Overlook Building Party Room, 3100 N. Leisure World Blvd, Silver Spring.

A private burial will be held at the All Saints Episcopal Church in Sunderland.

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Architect of Modern State GOP Dies