Joyce Lyons Terhes, a “trailblazer” who was the first Republican woman elected to the Calvert County Board of Commissioners and later dedicated herself to strengthening Maryland’s Republican Party, died Wednesday.
The Silver Spring resident was 78. A cause of death was not publicly available.
Mrs. Terhes was born in Dunkirk in Calvert County in 1940 to Mildred Ward Lyons and Arthur Gorman Lyons.
She attended Calvert County Public Schools and later received a bachelor's degree from Mary Washington College of the University of Virginia. She married Warner Paul Terhes.
Mrs. Terhes taught government studies in middle and high school, a, according to her family’s prepared obituary.
She got involved in local politics in 1986, when she became the first Republican woman elected to the Calvert County Board of Commissioners, on which she served two terms.
“She was an elected woman from Southern Maryland at a time when that was seen as a trailblazer,” said Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who twice ran unsuccessfully for Maryland governor, in 1994 and 1998.
Mrs. Terhes was a member of the Republican Women Leaders of Calvert County, where she was dubbed "Maryland's Iron Lady,” her prepared obituary said.
She was elected chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party in 1989, a role she served until her retirement in 1998.
Dirk Haire, current chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, said Mrs. Terhes was one of the first Republicans he met when he moved to the state in 1996.
“I can confidently say that she was the architect of the strong and growing Republican Party that we see today,” Mr. Haire said in a statement.
While Mrs. Terhes served as the party’s chairwoman, Republicans held half of Maryland’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, party officials said. Now, Rep. Andy Harris is the only Republican of the state’s eight congressmen.
During that time, Mrs. Terhes worked with Mrs. Sauerbrey, then a member of the Maryland House of Delegates; U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman, state Sen. John A. Cade, and state Republican National Committeeman Richard Taylor “to reinvigorate the Republican Party,” according to a statement from the Maryland Republican Party.
Mrs. Terhes had to walk a fine line during a particularly close Republican gubernatorial primary between Bentley and Mrs. Sauerbrey in 1994, Mrs. Sauerbrey said. Mrs. Sauerbrey ultimately lost to Democrat Parris N. Glendening in the general election, by fewer than st shy of 6,000 votes.
“As party chair, Joyce was tireless. She was totally committed. She dedicated her life to a very determined effort to build a Republican Party in Maryland,” Mrs. Sauerbrey said.
Maryland was not viewed as a “Republican hotbed,” but Mrs. Terhes managed to bring the National Federation of Republican Women’s biennial convention to Baltimore in 1989, Mrs. Sauerbrey said.
During the decade she served as the party’s chairwoman, Mrs. Terhes spearheaded “robust and inclusive grass-roots” campaigns, with groups such as Teenage Republicans, College Republicans, Young Republicans, Asian Republicans, Jewish Republicans, and Black Republicans, party officials said.
“She drove the party with a strong vision, political shrewdness, and uncompromising determination,” said Jim Burton in a statement. He served as executive director of the party under Mrs. Terhes.
“I started as an intern at the party, and she taught me so much, helped me acquire skills and knowledge, and guided me up the leadership ladder until I became Executive Director at the party. I owe much of my political success to her,” Mr. Burton said.
Former state Sen. Nancy Jacobs, who represented Harford and Cecil counties, said in a Facebook post that the state’s Republican Party was transformed under Mrs. Terhes’ leadership.
“The Maryland Republican Party lost a great leader and a wonderful friend this week. Joyce Lyons Terhes brought the GOP to life in Maryland,” Mrs. Jacobs said.
When Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. was elected governor in 2003, Mrs. Terhes went on to work on his staff in intergovernmental relations.
In 2002, Mrs. Terhes was elected as the Republican National Committeewoman of Maryland, serving as a voting delegate for multiple Republican National Conventions. She was also elected to the executive committee of the Republican National Committee in 2005, and was reelected in 2007 and 2011.
Mrs. Terhes was recognized numerous times for her leadership. She was named Maryland Republican Woman of the Year in 1993 and 1996, and recognized as one of Maryland's Top 100 Women by Warfield's Business Record in 1996.
She later became an active member of the Chevy Chase Republican Women's Club, which her perpared obituary said named the annual new members tea in her honor.
She also helped mentor many young people who went on to become party leaders, party officials said.
“Not only was she a great Republican leader, but she cared about each and every Republican as a person. 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,” Mr. Haire said. “She will be dearly missed, and we extend our condolences to her family at this difficult time."
In recent years, Mrs. Terhes continued to speak at conservative events. Mrs. Sauerbrey said Mrs. Terhes arranged for her to speak to residents at the Leisure World retirement community where Mrs. Teheres was living.
Mrs. Terhes’ prepared obituary said she enjoyed the company of her late West Highland terrier named Winston Churchill.
Messages left for Mrs. Terhes’ family were not returned Sunday.
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.
Mrs. Terhes was preceded in death by her parents; her brothers, Robert and Gorman; and her husband. Mrs. Terhes is survived by her sister, Shirley Lyons Parker, and her husband, John H. Parker IV; and 12 nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, according to the prepared obituary.