Those close to Vic and Terry Stelly described them as “inseparable.”
On Saturday, they weren’t apart for long when Vic, a 79-year-old former state representative, died of complications from COVID-19 early in the morning and Terry, 80, succumbed to her own battle with the virus just over 13 hours later.
The couple recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
“You don’t see marriages like that too often anymore,” said state Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, who had been friends with the couple since the 1980s. “At first it shocked me that they both died the same day, but as I looked back at how they lived their lives and how they felt about each other, it doesn’t surprise me at all. I think in this case it had a lot to do with him passing and she just decided she was going to meet him the same day.”
Toni Stelly Hebert, the couple’s daughter, said her mother could not live without her father.
“After 60 years together, one could not be without the other, so they traveled one last trip to paradise where they will be together forever,” she wrote in a Facebook post Saturday.
Throughout Vic’s long career in public service, representing Louisiana's 35th District from 1988 to 2004 and serving as a member of the Louisiana Board of Regents for Higher Education from 2007 through 2013, Terry was always by his side, Johns said.
“We can’t be successful in our legislative career without support at home,” Johns said. “The average person doesn’t truly understand the commitment we have to make to be gone so much if you’re going to do it the right way, and Terry was that support for him. She never wavered. She was there every step of the way.”
Former state legislator and retired mayor of Lake Charles Randy Roach said he remembers that commitment between the couple when Vic was traveling across the state to build support for a tax swap plan that bears his name.
The “Stelly Plan,” approved by lawmakers and voters in a 2002 constitutional amendment, eliminated sales taxes on groceries and residential utilities in exchange for increased income taxes on middle- and upper-income earners. Vic spent years speaking in support of the plan to rotary clubs, editorial boards and pretty much anyone who would listen while his wife supported him along the way, Roach said.
“They went through a lot together,” Roach said. “The good, the bad, all the struggles of life that come from 60 years of marriage. They did it all together.”
The Stellys met at Northwestern State University, where Vic was a quarterback for the football team, and married while the pair were still in school, Johns said.
“They had no money, literally had nothing,” Johns said. “But from their college days until December the 26th, they literally were an inseparable couple.”
Vic received his bachelor's degree from Northwestern State University in 1962 and his master's from Louisiana State University in 1965. He was an assistant football coach at McNeese State University from 1970 through 1974. Vic then became a State Farm insurance agent, where Johns worked with him and remembered him as an “overachiever” at everything he did. After the couple moved to the Lake Charles area, Terry Stelly worked for the local district attorney's office, according to the Johnson Funeral Home of Lake Charles.
Vic was inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame in 2006.
Dennis Stine, a former state legislator and commissioner of administration under Gov. Buddy Roemer, said he remembers Vic as “courageous and relentless” when lawmaking but a “young spirit” when he was with his wife.
“They were inseparable in life, and now they’re inseparable in death,” Stine said. “They were truly a wonderful couple. They knew everyone, and they were such humble people.”
While their passing is a tragedy, Johns said it’s also something out of a movie.
“Some people will call it a tragedy, and it is a tragedy, but it’s also a true love story,” Johns said. “Had they had the opportunity to script that, they would have.”