Turner leaves legacy of integrity and courage

December 3, 2012 10:24:18 AM

Jeff Clark - [email protected]


WCBI news personality Aundrea Self didn't hesitate when asked to describe her former employer and friend, the late Sen. Bennie Turner. 


"He always exuded a quiet confidence," Self said Sunday. "He had a strong presence when he walked into the room." 


Turner, D-West Point, died Tuesday at age 64 after a brief illness. A longtime member of the Mississippi Legislature, Turner represented the 16th District, which includes portions of Lowndes, Clay, Oktibbeha and Noxubee counties. A public visitation was held Sunday in West Point at Turner and Associates, Turner's law firm, where he was the senior partner. 


Funeral services were held today at Third Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in West Point and burial followed at West Point Memorial Gardens. Flags were flown at half-mast today in Columbus in Turner's honor. 


With a storied career in Mississippi politics, where he served on several committees including the Senate Appropriations Committee, Judiciary Committee and Economic Development Committee, Turner was the chair for the Ethics Committee. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, who served with Turner in the state legislature, called the late senator a friend. 


"Bennie Turner and I were close personal friends for three decades," Wicker said. "In addition to our years together in the state senate, I served with him on the board of directors of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services in the 1980s when he served as chairman. Bennie Turner was a true public servant who exhibited integrity and bipartisanship. He led a successful law practice and was a smart small business owner. His passing is a great loss for our state and a personal loss for Gayle and me." 


Turner's son-in-law, Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, said he will miss his mentor's brave nature. 


"Sen. Bennie Turner always embodied the spirit of rising to the occasion, never a coward to be safe, never expedient to be political nor was he vain to be popular," Karriem said. "He asked the question, 'Is it right?'(He served) all the people in District 16 in the spirit of honor, decency, excellence and truth because it was right, leaving for us a legacy to carry on of freedom, justice and equality, for us and all of our generations to come. He made all of our family proud as a husband, father and grandfather, with many accomplishments. He will truly be missed -- his counsel and advice was priceless." 


Turner was born Aug. 21, 1948 in West Point and was the youngest child of Robert Turner and Esther B. Hunter. After graduating from Fifth Street High School in 1966, he received an associate's degree in government from Mary Holmes College, a bachelor's degree in political science from Mississippi State University and a juris doctorate degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1974. He began practicing law with Pennington and Walker in 1976, the law firm of Walker and Turner in 1995, and later went on to organize Turner & Associates, P.L.L.C. 


He was instrumental in forming T&W (Turner and Walker) Communications Corporation, where he was owner of WTWG-AM 1050 radio station, and was past owner of WACR AM/FM radio; he also served as president of the National Association of Black Broadcasters.  


"I had known Bennie Turner since 1986," WCBI news personality R.H. Brown said. "I left Boston in 1985 and moved down here. I worked for him at WACR. I worked for him for 14 years -- the time went by so fast. I worked for him when WACR was located in Catfish Alley. He was a friend. He was not a hard man to approach. The thing a lot of people did not know about Sen. Turner was that he was a funny man -- he had a great sense of humor. Yes, he was very quiet and soft-spoken, but he was also very funny. His legacy as a broadcaster will live on. Black radio was hard to sell back in the '80s and '90s. He pioneered and he held on and he was able to sell WACR. He hired talent from across the country. He brought a big market sound to a very small market. As a senator, he was intelligent and shrewd. He was a leader in the Senate." 


Self also got her start in broadcasting, working for Turner at WACR as a "morning show sidekick." But almost 20 years later, she said she will always be grateful to the late broadcaster and senator. 


"I met him in 1993 when I was a freshman in college," Self said. "I worked for him for about a month before I met him. I am so grateful to him for the opportunity he gave me and many others. In the Senate, he was a mover and a shaker, but he didn't do it loudly. Both Democrats and Republicans respected him. He was quiet but respectable. As a person, people are going to remember him as someone who had a strong presence when he walked into the room. He exemplified that person who had been given some opportunities in life, and then he helped others to have their own opportunities."