Pepperdine People Magazine
Pepperdine People Magazine Fall 2005
The Eyes Have It: The Triumph of Sharon and Terry Mullin
By Bill Henegar
If you know his age, you may be surprised by his appearance. Terry Mullin extends his hand for a warm greeting, dressed in an immaculate, tailored suit. He is straight and lean, athletically handsome, much like the Stanford University tennis player he was in college. All in all, he looks 15 years younger than his actual age. Perhaps it is his eyes that are most remarkable. His Irish eyes twinkle and dance as he speaks. They are soft, kind, expressive, honest. Probably a lot like his father's eyes—the father that has always been Terry's first and foremost hero. His homemaker mother was Merced Mullin, quiet and pretty, and Terry carries her maiden name as his first name.
Russell Mullin, Terry's father, was one of the most admired men many people in his area knew. "He was very Irish," says Terry, "strict but with great philosophies on life. To him, truth was the key—nothing could make him tell an untruth. He was wise and fair. At times he was fierce, and yet he was very much loved by those who knew him."
Russell ran a lumber company that was successful enough to influence his son to invest himself in that same industry. In 1949, just six years out of college, Terry opened his own lumber company, then a second one. Each time Terry expanded the business, his father, ever the cautious one, told his son that he was being risky. Eventually, Terry was so "risky" that he owned 23 retail and wholesale lumber and building materials businesses in Southern California, the best known being Terry Lumber.
Terry remembers a wonderful boyhood as he grew up in Burbank, California. "There were many vacant lots for a lad to explore," he says with a smile, "and there were holes to be dug." One of his earliest dreams was "to build the best tree house in the neighborhood." It seems that, even at an early age, he was thinking of building things. Perhaps that accounts, in part, for his choice of a career in construction materials. As a businessman he supplied professional builders and consumers with high-quality materials. Meanwhile, he himself was building a successful organization that provided an excellent living for his family and his employees.
Terry married Diane King, a Californian like him. And together they had a daughter, Reilley (named for Diane's grandfather), and two boys, Tom and Russell (named for Terry's father). The family lived in Santa Monica, right on the ocean, in a house that gave the children, and their delighted friends, many hours of pleasure. Tragically, Diane died in 1991 of a coronary attack. The couple had enjoyed a wonderful marriage and life together, and Terry thought his life had ended with the loss of his beloved wife. "I was shy and certainly not dating or looking for another companion," says Terry. "But then it seems a guardian angel sent me a beautiful and loving person…and my life was given back to me."
Terry Mullin is an entrepreneur
beginning a new career builiding
luxury homes in Hawaii, such as
the ones pictured.
An attractively dressed Sharon Mullin enters the room, and at the core of her appearance are the warm, sparkling eyes of the young lady who caused such a stir in 1956. You don't have to be told that she is both talented and beautiful. When Sharon Ritchie completed high school, she accepted an academic scholarship to Colorado Women's College in Denver. There, as an 18-year-old freshman, she entered the Miss Colorado competition. It was no surprise when she won that contest and went on to represent Colorado at the Miss America pageant in 1956, winning it all. And she became the first Miss America to be invited to tour Europe on an official visit sponsored by Philco International.
As a girl, Sharon had always dreamed of being a movie star or "a stage actress at the Pasadena Playhouse." One of her "idols" was actress June Haver, whom she later met and became friends with. But Sharon's life took a different turn. After her year as Miss America, Sharon had many career offers, but she decided instead on marriage and a family. She was wedded to singer and golfer Don Cherry, and the couple had two boys, Sean and Stephen. In later years, Sharon and Don would grow apart and go their separate ways.
"My life was very much in New York for many, many years," says Sharon. The glamour and bustling city life were far from her early days. She grew up in the solidly mid-America town of Grand Island, square in the center of Nebraska. Her parents, Forrest and Genevieve Ritchie, were "close to the land" folks, religious and decent people. Forrest earned his living in the insurance business, and Genevieve was a homemaker. When she was 17, Sharon received a copy of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking from her father. The book transformed Sharon's life. To this day, she names her father and Dr. Peale as the greatest influences in her life. In fact, while living in New York City, she attended Peale's church, Marble Collegiate.
Probably as a result of her early acting dreams and experience, Sharon has always been an excellent public speaker. In New York she became an industry spokesperson, first representing the Toni Corporation, manufacturers of beauty and hair care products. Later, she represented the hundred-year-old CertainTeed Corporation, one of the nation's largest and most respected manufacturers of building products. In fact, it was at a building products convention in Texas that she renewed her friendship with Terry Mullin.
Terry and Sharon first met about 40 years ago through a mutual friend. Their paths occasionally crossed through the years, but they remained only acquaintances. It wasn't until 1992 that fate (or was it that "guardian angel"?) brought the two together in a new way. They fell in love and were soon married. "It was kismet," Sharon reflects with a smile. Their lives together have been happy and fulfilled.
However, during their 13 years of marriage, Terry and Sharon each have had to face devastating tragedies in their lives—they both lost a son. First, Terry's son, Tom, died in July 1999, the day before his 42nd birthday after a long, six-year battle with melanoma. When first discovered, the doctors gave Tom only six months to live. But he bravely turned that into a half dozen memory-filled years.
Terry reflects, "What helped me the most with that tragedy was Tom himself. I didn't really help him, he helped me." It is still very painful for Terry to talk about his son. "I think of him a lot," he says. "We had a very, very close father-son relationship." Indeed, Tom ran Terry Lumber for a number of years before he passed away, as his father became chairman of the board. When he succumbed to cancer, Tom left behind a wife, Jolyn, and four children.
Both Terry and Tom were competitive. Whether playing tennis or Ping-Pong, both father and son were out to win. When asked why he didn't let his son win once in a while, Terry answered, "I knew that someday he would beat me, and from that point I would never win again." He was right, of course.
A little more than two years later, Sharon lost her son in a very different way. Like a thunderbolt, the news came that suicide terrorists had crashed hijacked jetliners into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. When the north tower fell on 9/11, Sharon's son, Stephen Cherry, perished with hundreds of other employees of Cantor Fitzgerald & Company, where he was a partner. Like Tom Mullin, Stephen was nearing his 42nd birthday. He left behind a wife, Mary Ellen, and four sons.
When asked how she has coped with the loss of Stephen, Sharon gives a one-word answer, "Faith." Then she adds, "I don't know how people without faith get through something like this. As devastating as it was, I always felt God's presence." In some ways, it is a similar answer that Terry gives regarding the loss of Tom. He says, "I guess it was Tom's faith that strengthened me. Tom told me, 'We'll be together again, Dad.'" The firestorms of these tragedies tested the mettle of Sharon and Terry's lives, and they emerged stronger and softer—stronger in their faith and character, softer in their compassion for others. In a deeper sense, because Sharon and Terry had merged their lives and families through marriage, each had really lost two sons within a period of about two years. It was a double blow that only faith could survive.
Terry Mullin sold his corporation to a large, British company in January 2000, not long after Tom passed away. In its last year under Terry and Tom's leadership, the company was the market leader in Los Angeles.
Today Terry's younger son, Russell, works in Burbank, managing one of the lumber companies that were sold to Carolina Holdings. After Sharon's son, Stephen Cherry, was killed in the 9/11 attacks, Russell met and fell in love with Stephen's widow, Mary Ellen. They married and now live in a community north of Los Angeles.
After working for years as a certified financial planner and money manager, Sharon's older son, Sean, has changed careers. He is now a schoolteacher in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Terry became involved with Pepperdine University several years ago through his friend, the late Leonard Straus, whom Terry greatly admired and looked to as mentor. Like Leonard, Terry was interested in Pepperdine's academic excellence, but even more, he supported the ethics and character development in which the University is engaged, as well as its spiritual emphasis. His first contact with the University was Chancellor Charles B. Runnels, who commented, "Terry and Sharon are the kind of people we seek as we continue our quest for excellence within the framework of Christian values. They are people of strong character themselves, and they are concerned for the future of young people."
Through their mutual friend, Dorothy Straus, the Mullins have become friends with Vice Chancellor and School of Law Dean Emeritus Ronald F. Phillips. He said, "I recently visited Terry and Sharon in their lovely home at Hualalai Resort in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Terry is excited about beginning a new career there as a home builder. He showed me his fi rst project, a house built on lava rock that he designed and constructed not far from his own home. The craftsmanship of the house is most impressive, with teak and other special woods, and with great attention to detail. Terry built it—as he builds everything in his life—with great care and quality." The house is now for sale, and Terry is already planning other houses on adjacent property, including a home for his daughter, Reilley, who is relocating from her longtime home in Northern California. The community, with a lush golf course in its midst, has dramatic ocean views.
Terry says of his wife, "She is very bright and has a great sense of humor. She makes me feel good." Sharon says that she hopes to be remembered as "a person who was loving and compassion- ate, who put others fi rst, who was generous of heart and spirit." If that is her goal, she has already attained it, according to the person who knows her best, her husband Terry.
As for Terry, he says, "I would like to be like my father: honorable, truthful, a person of character." This, he seems to have achieved, along with many other remark- able things. His advice to the next generation? "The most important part of business is people—hire for attitude and ethics; you can teach good people the knowledge they need. Business ethics is vital. And, by the way, have fun." That latter advice is one he has carefully followed himself; he has thoroughly enjoyed his life, despite the withering sorrows. And, he would say, the icing on the cake has been marrying Sharon.
President Andrew K. Benton remarked, "I am grateful that the Graziadio School of Business and Management awarded Terry Mullin an honorary doctorate, the doctor of laws degree, at its August 2005 commencement program. He is well deserving of that acknowledgement. He and Sharon are truly remarkable people in a world that often seems to have lost its way. We are thankful for their generous involvement with the University." The commencement was a special event for Terry for an additional reason: his granddaughter, Kelly, Tom's daughter, received her MBA degree at the ceremony.
Another family member, Shawn Cox, is a freshman at Seaver College this fall. He is the son of Terry's daughter, Reilley Mullin.
Today, Terry and Sharon divide their time between Hawaii and their home in Los Angeles. The beautiful islands beckon them, but they still have strong ties on the mainland. Between them, the Mullins have nine grandchildren, one great-grandchild and another great-grandchild on the way.
Terry and Sharon's eyes may have been softened by tragedy, but they still sparkle with triumphant life.