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Profile: A life in the theater interrupted by Ross Perot

CHARITY ROBEY PHOTO Terry Brockbank at his home on Midway Road.
Terry Brockbank at his home on Midway Road.

Terry Brockbank left the United Kingdom for the United States in 1968. Forty-six years later, when he says the word, “theater,” as he often does, his London and South Wales roots are still audible, his diction perfect.

Terry is an actor who took a 20-year break from his craft, had a successful career in information technology and is now back at it. He and his wife, Kathy, divide their time between a home on Midway Road and their apartment on New York’s Upper West Side. Both locations, Terry points out, have easy access to excellent theater.

In the role of Lord Brockhurst in the recent North Fork Community Theatre musical comedy, “The Boyfriend,” Suffolk Times reviewer Toni Munna wrote that Terry “had the audience roaring with laughter.”

On December 14, Terry will narrate the “Christmas Cantata” at the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church, and on December 21 he and Kathy will perform a series of holiday readings at the Presbyterian Church, including Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

Born in London, Terry grew up in South Wales, studied physics in London and moved to Richmond, Virginia at 26 to work in textile technology — specifically nylon. Engineer by day, he was an actor by night, starting with “The Man Who Came to Dinner” at the Virginia Museum Theatre. He did nine shows in two years.

By 1970, demand for nylon had cratered, Terry was laid off, and he moved to New York City to be a professional actor. “I tried for about six months,” he said. “As much as I like theater, I did not like starving.”

He found his way to Electronic Data Systems, a company founded by the billionaire from Texarkana, Texas, Ross Perot, “who was willing to train people of my age who had some experience of the world.” Soon, Terry was shaking the hand of the man who would be a two-time presidential candidate.

Based in New York, Terry joined a company of fewer than 100 employees in the field then known as data processing.

“Perot was a driven man, but his views were about as far opposite from mine as could be — very, very right wing,” Terry said. “You had to have extremely short hair, wing-tipped shoes, a white shirt and no facial hair. I was conforming to his requirements, but in New York City in 1970 I stood out like a sore thumb.”

When he left EDS in 1974 it had 2,000 employees. He continued his career in information technology, retiring in 2004 after 14 years at the insurance company, New York Life.

In 1971, Terry ran into actor Kathy Dyas, who would become his wife, at the home of a mutual friend in New York. They had met four years earlier in Richmond, at the cast party for “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” Her father, Jimmy Dyas, was the director.

“Nine years later, I married the director’s daughter,” Terry said.

That same year they saw an ad for The Pridwin. “We had probably been across the East River twice in our lives to go to a Mets game,” Terry said, “We called and said, how do we get there?”

The folks at the Pridwin came to pick them up from the ferry and the couple experienced Island-love at first sight.

For many years when they spent time on Shelter Island, they rented. By 1991 their son Derek was 10 years old and in need of summertime activity. “Kathy said, ‘Why don’t we buy a house and it can be summer camp?’ I came out on weekends,” Terry said. “It probably molded his entire career … he spent a lot of time at Mashomack.”

Now in his 30s, Derek Brockbank is campaign director for National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and the Environmental Defense Fund’s joint Coastal Louisiana Restoration project.

Terry and his wife had both stopped acting “cold turkey” when Derek was born, but continued to enjoy being in the audience at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor and North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck.

Although husband and wife hate flying and have never been big travelers, in January 2013 they decided to cruise from New York to Australia, a round trip that would take about 45 days.

“We got as far as Florida and my mother died in England,” Terry said. “It was a strange feeling to be trapped and have to decide. We thought it really wasn’t feasible to get off and beside, my mother would have killed me. We got back and went to her memorial in England.”

In 2007 he played Colonel Pickering in “My Fair Lady” at the North Fork Community Theatre. Since then he has directed and performed in dozens of plays and readings there and at the Hampton Theatre Company, Northeast Stage, the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church and the Shelter Island Players.

Terry loves working with “an entire range of people,” he said, “Some are in college, some are retired like me, people you wouldn’t get to socialize with under any other circumstance. They respect my experience and I respect that they can sing and dance.”