Mrs. Edwards became a multimillionaire, owned two matching Rolls-Royces and was largely responsible for shaping Friendship Heights, a neighborhood that reaches from the District into Chevy Chase along Wisconsin and Western avenues NW. She died of a heart ailment May 6 at age 94 at the Carriage Hill nursing home in Bethesda.
For much of her life, Mrs. Edwards went by the nickname “Tim.” Few in her family know how she inherited the moniker, but her daughter, Deborah Demaree, knows why it stuck.
“Having a man’s name in a man’s world really made a difference” on business deals, she said.
Mrs. Edwards’s many real estate transactions included the sprawling Geico headquarters, the Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores, and the Irene apartment tower, named for the wife of the real estate developer and late Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin.
Mrs. Edwards was dubbed the “unofficial mayor of Friendship Heights” by The Washington Post in 1969. She said that no one in real estate knew her neighborhood better than she. Some of her competitors agreed.
“She knew what Friendship Heights was going to look like 20 years from the time she started,” business rival Edward Asher, president of Chevy Chase Land, told The Post in 2006.
In the 1960s, Mrs. Edwards noticed a change in a Maryland zoning law that would allow developers to construct 16-story buildings on the northern side of Friendship Heights. A few hundred yards down Wisconsin in the District, buildings could not exceed 10 stories.
Predicting that high-rise builders would also notice the law, Mrs. Edwards began buying land, stitching together plots to offer to developers.
She purchased many of the homes she had sold earlier as a real estate agent and was willing to pay any price. She paid $175,000 to buy back a house she once sold for $5,000.
Mrs. Edwards attributed her success to her longtime connection to the community and her feisty personality.
“I was on the PTA,” she said in 2006. “I was a mother. People trusted me.”
When her matronly qualities didn’t work, Mrs. Edwards said she “would take reverse action and be tough as nails.”
When the commercial and residential developers arrived, Mrs. Edwards cashed in. She paid off her mortgage and later bought two white Rolls-Royces — a convertible and a four-door.
As Demaree recalled in the 2006 article: “I thought everyone’s mother sewed clothes and made multimillion-dollar real estate deals off the back porch.”
Thelma Leona Terry was born March 23, 1917, in Newington, a community in Fairfax County. At 19, she married a pilot and liquor salesman named William Edwards.