While many other women were settling down after going to college in the 1950s to get their “M-R-S,” Dorothy Terry was camped at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro to film a pride of lions.
The only woman in the group accompanying famed Lincoln Park Zoo director Marlin Perkins, the Northwestern University speech major was there to write scripts for Perkins’ TV show “Zoo Parade.”
Dorothy Terry went on to blaze a trail in the “Mad Men” era, rising to become a senior vice president at some of the world’s top public relations firms, including Daniel J. Edelman, Golin-Harris and Foote, Cone & Belding and handling accounts for companies including Sara Lee, ReaLemon, and Campbell’s Soup, according to her daughter, Alison Terry Rodes.
But on that 1956 trip to Africa, she was a fresh-faced gamine who entranced a lot of men in the vicinity — older, younger, American and local, according to famed photographer Art Shay, who was also on the trip. One of them was a Maasai tribal leader.
“He wanted to trade for her,” Shay said. “He wanted to get me two teenage girls for [Dorothy]. He said she was very cute.”
Ms. Terry kept them all at bay and off-balance with wit, wisecracks and unshakeable self-confidence — and also reminded them they were married, according to Shay. “She wouldn’t take any guff from anybody,” he said.
Ms. Terry — who, photographed by Shay in Africa, became the subject of one of his most popular pictures — died Aug. 21 at the Sunrise of Wilmette. She was 85 and had Alzheimer’s disease.
She “was one of the women in the world who was a big riposter,” Shay said. “She was always topping you. She would always come up with something cleverer or more to the point.”
In the case of the dignified — perhaps even stuffy — Perkins, she kidded him about the way he handled monkeys, which often resulted in the primates’ privates resting in his hands.
“C’mon, Marlin,” she told him, “you’re a big zoo director now.”
The trip to Africa with the future host of the popular TV show “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” “was one of her very best memories,” her daughter said.
At her request, Shay captured her glow in a photo that showed her luxuriating in a canvas bathtub in Africa. Shay said it’s one of his most popular images.
He also shot her causing a commotion as she walked on a street in Italy, an image he said she suggested.
Working in public relations, she met and married commercial photographer Duane Terry. They were married for 34 years, until his death in 1995.
She was born Dorothy Ruddell in the river town of Parkersburg, West Virginia, and had to drop out of school for 18 months while battling tuberculosis, which killed an aunt and uncle. Her mother Heloise, a teacher, home-schooled her during that time, pushing her to excel. Her father, Charles, was clerk for the Circuit Court of Wood County.
In high school, she had her own Saturday morning radio show on fashion, sponsored by a department store. She studied at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., where she was program director for the campus radio station, her daughter said. She earned a bachelor’s degree in speech at Northwestern and joined NBC, where she worked on TV shows including “Watch Mr. Wizard,” “The Eddy Arnold Show” featuring the country-and-Western crooner, “Out on the Farm” and ‘‘Zoo Parade,” which was broadcast from top zoos, including Lincoln Park and the Cincinnati and San Diego zoos.
The Terrys raised their daughter in Old Town.
Ms. Terry loved spending time at their home in Door County, Wis., as well as trips to Nairobi and Oaxaca, Mexico.
She had a flair for mixing, matching and layering costume and ethnic jewelry that conjured the exuberant accessorizing of New York fashion maven Iris Apfel, her daughter said. She also sold some of her baubles. “Oh, my God, so much jewelry,” her daughter said. “She actually was a big vintage jewelry dealer.”
Ms. Terry is also survived by two grandsons. A stepdaughter, Dee, died of cancer at 56. A celebration of her life has been held.