There was much to love about Mildred McLean-Terrell.

There were her upbeat personality, smile, sense of style that included her signature hats, family dinners, dancing, and a singing voice that she thought sounded like Patti LaBelle but that her daughter described as “a little off.”

However, the trait that most impressed her family and friends was her willingness to travel anywhere, first to show her children the world and later to support them and her grandchildren in celebrating an achievement wherever they were.

“She told me several times if she had it her way, she would have been a race car driver,” said daughter Dawn Parks. “That’s her lust for life and her sense of adventure. She didn’t have a fear of traveling wherever she decided she wanted to go.”

One of 15 children, Mrs. Terrell, 86, a 5-foot-3 dynamo who lived her entire life in Philadelphia, died Sunday, May 3, at Wesley Enhanced Living at Stapeley in Germantown of complications related to the coronavirus.

The fact that she had limited resources did not stop her from taking her children to New York and Orlando as well as places around Philadelphia.

“To us, her resources weren’t limited, because she opened up the world to us,” her daughter said. “If she wanted to go someplace, she would pack a bag, have enough provisions in there for us, and we’d get on the bus or the train and just go. We lived close to Broad and Fairmount, so we walked to Center City, went to Reading Terminal.”

Mrs. Terrell, with sons Derrick (left) and Dwayne, traveled widely to spend time with her family.
Courtesy of the Parks and McLean families
Mrs. Terrell, with sons Derrick (left) and Dwayne, traveled widely to spend time with her family.

Mrs. Terrell once boarded a train to Washington state to watch Dawn, who was living with her husband in Tacoma, run the Sound to Narrows, her first road race. She drove 800 miles to Chicago to see her grandson graduate from Recruit Training Command at Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago. She also attended the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama.

She especially loved it when her son’s job relocated him to London. During multiple visits, she watched tennis at Wimbledon, attended the 2012 Olympics, saw Paris, and visited Harrods, the luxury London department store.

“Even today, there are things that I can’t throw away, anything she got overseas,” her daughter said.

Mrs. Terrell would host family dinners on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every one of her 14 brothers and sisters received their instructions from her.

“My aunt was the main cook, and then everybody did their part,” Dawn said. “I used to set up the table, and it had to be immaculate. My mother had a flair for the design of the room, how it should look.”

In her teens, Dawn said, she and her mother regularly attended the annual Ebony Magazine Fashion Fair at the Academy of Music.

Mrs. Terrell loved to wear special hats.
Courtesy of the Parks and McLean families
Mrs. Terrell loved to wear special hats.

“She just had a certain way,” Dawn said of her mother. “A lot of things I do now, I find myself doing because I saw her do it.”

Mack and Mildred Terrell
Courtesy of the Parks and McLean families
Mack and Mildred Terrell

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Terrell is survived by son Derrick, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. She was preceded in death by husband Mack Terrell and son Dwayne.

Joe Juliano, jjuliano@inquirer.com