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Voice for Schindlers shaped by activism

Randall Terry, known for opposing abortion, returns to the spotlight on behalf of Terri Schiavo's parents.

By TOM ZUCCO
Published March 29, 2005


PINELLAS PARK - The public face of the crusade to keep Terri Schiavo alive loosened his tie, grabbed a bullhorn and threaded his way through the protesters Thursday night, tall, well-dressed and instantly recognizable. The crowd pressed forward to hear him.

"I need a head count," he said. "Raise your hand if you can get on that bus to Tallahassee. Who's going? We need people.

"You're doing this," he added, "for Terri."

Several dozen hands shot into the air.

"Good," he said. "Very good."

Sometimes it's a Franciscan friar who speaks for the Schindler family. Sometimes it's an attorney or a priest.

But more often than not, it's Christian activist Randall Terry who steps before the microphones to address the media regarding Schiavo's condition or efforts to keep her alive.

When the Schindlers cross the street to enter the Hospice House Woodside, Terry is usually with them. When the family leaves their daughter and returns to plan their next move, Terry disappears inside the building at their side.

He organizes vigils and protests and briefings with the media. At times, he seems everywhere. One moment he's standing under a tree directing his staff to make sure every reporter and TV producer has a copy of an affidavit from a neurologist who thinks Schiavo has been misdiagnosed. And the next he is outside the Fox News tent working his cell phone and waiting to be miked.

On Monday, he passed out doughnuts and bagels to reporters.

"The media has given me water," he said. "I felt this was a payback."

Terry was a key player in an extensive campaign to lobby state lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003 to enact a law blocking removal of the tube.

And he is here again.

"Our family has asked Randall Terry and his staff to once again coordinate the efforts to rescue Terri," Bob Schindler, Terri Schiavo's father, said last month in a statement.

Terry is best known as the founder of Operation Rescue, an antiabortion group whose tactics included standing in front of local abortion clinics and screaming and pleading with pregnant women to turn away. The group's members also tossed themselves against car doors to keep abortion patients from getting out, and chained themselves to clinic desks.

He found himself on all the talk shows in the late 1980s and early '90s, but lawsuits drove him into bankruptcy and he faded from the spotlight.

Until Terri Schiavo.

Terry, 46, declined several requests for interviews by the Times, as did others who speak for the family. Terry also declined to say if he was being paid to act as the Schindlers' spokesman.

But his life has been well-documented.

He was a bright student in high school in Rochester, N.Y., but dropped out a few months short of graduation and headed west in hopes of becoming a rock star.

Less than a year later, he found God and was back in New York, preaching the gospel and selling used cars. He enrolled in Bible school, where he met his wife, Cindy.

He once described Planned Parenthood's founder Margaret Sanger as a "whore" and an "adulteress." He arranged to have a dead fetus presented to Bill Clinton at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. "Families," he wrote in his 1995 book The Judgment of God , "are destroyed as a father vents his mid-life crisis by abandoning his wife for a younger, prettier model." Those words would come back to haunt him.

He has been arrested more than 40 times and served the equivalent of more than a year in prison between 1986 and 1995 on charges related to abortion protests. He said once that a Nuremberg trial should be held for doctors who perform abortions and called them "murderers."

He made an unsuccessful bid for New York's 26th District congressional seat in 1998, and considered gubernatorial and senatorial runs. Then, he filed for bankruptcy in 1998, saying he had $1.7-million in debts, mostly civil judgments won by the National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood.

He and his wife, Cindy, raised four children - three adopted and one biological - outside Binghamton, N.Y. When the couple were divorced in 2000, the pastor of his previous church, the Landmark Church of Binghamton, N.Y., tossed him out. In a letter, the pastor accused him of a "pattern of repeated and sinful relationships and conversations with both single and married women," according to the Washington Post. Seven months after his divorce, Terry married Andrea Kollmorgan, a woman 16 years his junior whom he met at a religious convention.

Some of his children wound up taking different paths from their father. Terry has repeatedly denounced homosexuals, and when his adopted son, Jamiel, wrote an essay in Out magazine last year announcing he was gay, Terry tried to talk his son out of going public. Jamiel Terry wouldn't budge.

He barred one of his adopted teenage daughters from his house after she got pregnant out of wedlock for the second time. Another adopted daughter also became pregnant as a teenager and later converted to Islam, a religion Terry has described as composed of "murderers" and "terrorists."

He moved to Nashville in 2002 to try his hand at country music, and then to Vermont to head an anti-gay-rights group called Loyal Opposition. More recently, he moved to the St. Augustine area.

But after his divorce, his bankruptcy and his clashes with his children, Terry may have mellowed.

"People can get stuck inside fame," he told a reporter for the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghampton, N.Y., in 2002. "I was the leader of a huge national movement in my 20s, and I know that in my former life I was too brash.

"I said things I wish I never said. People want me to be one-dimensional. I have been pigeon-holed over the years, and it just isn't me.

"I would like somehow to be a likable normal guy now, a guy with strong opinions."

--Times staff writer Stephen Nohlgren and Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which used information from the Washington Post and Binghamton (N.Y.) Press & Sun-Bulletin.

[Last modified March 29, 2005, 05:46:47]


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