THE PRESS ROOM at Philadelphia police headquarters was a scene right out of "The Front Page," or any of the other plays and films about the rollicking old days of newspaper police reporting.
Picture a shabby V-shaped smoke-filled room, fill it with a half-dozen or more reporters from competing news organizations, pounding on typewriters, barking on the phone at reluctant news sources or hapless editors.
Then picture a red-haired, nattily dressed, bespectacled, florid-faced man seated behind a metal desk, clouds of smoke from his ever-present Pall Malls ringing his head, scribbling notes as he interviewed a source.
That would have been Robert J. "Bo" Terry, a legendary police reporter, a character among characters, an eccentric among eccentrics who turned police reporting into an accomplished art.
Bo, who died Sunday at age 76 after a long struggle with lymphoma, was a streetwise Philadelphia native and a proud Irish Catholic.
He was a reporter for the Inquirer for 44 years, the last 20 as a police reporter stationed in the press room in the "Roundhouse" (police headquarters). He retired in 1999.
"I used to tell Bo that he reminded me of a Bookbinder - as in 'old and original' - because he was the most unique and original character I ever met in my 40 years in the newspaper business, an enterprise filled with characters," said Frank Dougherty, retired Daily News reporter.
"He was old school," said Thomas J. Gibbons Jr., retired Inquirer reporter who worked with Bo. "He didn't use a typewriter and sometimes didn't even use a notebook. And when he did take notes, his shorthand could only be deciphered by himself. His memory was fantastic."
Although reporters often shared stories with each other, Bo enjoyed seizing an occasional scoop.
"On big stories," Tom Gibbons said, "Bo would sometimes slink from the room and head for a pay phone on another floor to dump his notes to a rewrite man in private, causing heartburn for those reporters sweating over what angle he had that they didn't. Someone would knock on the press room door, wave a sheet of paper, and then wave Bo outside. When he returned with a sly grin on his face, I knew I was in trouble."
Bo was famous for his malapropisms. He'd say a scene was so quiet you could not hear a pin drop. A favorite word was "everdently."
He had a temper, and was known to hurl a phone against a press room wall when frustrated. He was also a neat freak, always arranging phones and everything else on his desk in order, with a clean ashtray to start his shift.
Once when he found some papers left on his desk by a reporter from an earlier shift, he cried out, "What is this crap?" scooped it all up and dumped it in a trash can.
David Lee Preston, former Inquirer reporter and now assistant city editor of the Daily News, recalled that when he was hired as a night police reporter in 1982, Bo, then the bureau chief, advised him to always be well-dressed.
"He told me to start wearing a suit so people at crime scenes would think I was a cop," Preston said. "He knew all the cops of his generation from Catholic school, and he moved among them easily."
Frank Dougherty, whose name Bo always formalized as "Francis Dougherty," said he first met Bo in 1966 when Frank was a Daily News reporter fresh out of the Army.
"I was the new guy in the press room," Dougherty said. "Bo shared a lot of advice and introduced me to his copper friends and sources. He was a great guy who enriched the lives of everyone he interacted with, both in and out of the newspaper business."
Bo Terry was born in Philadelphia to William and Elizabeth Terry. He graduated from St. Athanasius Parochial School and Northeast Catholic High School for Boys. He went to work for the Inquirer as a copyboy in 1955. He worked in different departments before becoming a police reporter.
He married the former Donna Donato in 1989 and moved to Red Bank, N.J. He later moved to Manasquan.
"He was a very friendly, caring person," said his stepson, Brett Beach. "He liked to talk. He was interested in everybody's story."
Bo fought a courageous battle against his disease. "He fought and fought," his wife said. "He never gave up."
Besides his wife and stepson, he is survived by a son, Kevin Terry, from a previous marriage.
Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. Thursday at St. James Church, 94 Broad St., Red Bank, N.J. Friends may call at 2 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the John E. Day Funeral Home, 85 Riverside Ave., Red Bank. Burial will be in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Middletown, N.J.