To Terry Pellowski, a debt is a debt and needs to be repaid. Even if you only knew the lender for two weeks. Even if the debt is nearly a half-century old.
But repay it the 71-year-old Pellowski did, and rekindled a friendship as a bonus.
In 1966, Pellowski, a graduate of Baton Rouge’s Robert E. Lee High School, was a Marine taking advanced infantry training at Camp Pendleton, California, where he befriended Terry Murphy. They joined a handful of other Marines on a weekend liberty 60 miles away in Anaheim, sharing a motel room.
Pellowski took an afternoon shower before an evening on the town. He heard the room door open and close, but assumed it was one of his roommates. When picked up his pants, he noticed his wallet was in the wrong pocket, and opened it to discover all his money gone.
“I was in a state of panic at that time because ... I needed to get back to base for Sunday morning, otherwise I’d be AWOL, and in the Marine Corps that ain’t a good thing to do,” Pellowski said.
When he learned about it, Murphy loaned Pellowski $10 for a bus ticket, which solved the immediate problem. But, before Pellowski’s next payday, they were separated. Murphy was reassigned to another unit. Pellowski headed to Vietnam.
When he returned, Pellowski didn’t know how to find Murphy. He recalled that Murphy was from north Louisiana, but couldn’t remember the town. When traveling to other parts of the state, Pellowski said he checked local phone directories looking for him to no avail.
It wasn’t until Pellowski retired from Dow Chemical and took a six-week contract job in 2013 in Enid, Arkansas, that he got lucky. He overheard an employee telling someone she was from Montgomery, Louisiana.
“I thought to myself that sure sounds familiar,” he said. “I think that’s where Terry was from.”
He asked the employee if she knew a Terry Murphy from her hometown. She didn’t, but she had an aunt who knew the town better. Pellowski gave her his contact information. About a month later, the woman’s aunt put her in touch with Murphy’s brother, which finally ended his long, long search.
Pellowski called, but Murphy didn’t initially remember him, or the incident. They talked more, and the memories came back.
“I couldn’t believe somebody thought enough of me to look for me that long,” said Murphy, 75, who lives in Tallulah and is executive director for the Madison Port Commission.
Since his work takes him to Baton Rouge frequently, they met for the first time that year — almost a half century after the loan was made — at Parrain’s Seafood Restaurant. Pellowski insisted on paying for the meal, then handed Murphy a $10 bill.
“He said, ‘What’s that for?’” Pellowski said. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t know how much interest would be involved in a $10 loan that many years. I can’t afford the interest, but here’s your $10 back.”
They now meet about every two months, Murphy said.
“It just shows you how small the world is,” Pellowski added.