PATSY R. BRUMFIELD: Sen. Turner’s death deep loss for state

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

If you never met Sen. Bennie Turner of West Point, that is a shame. Sen. Turner died this week from a brain tumor. He was a true intellect, a profoundly nice person and one really great dresser.
When I worked in the state Senate, I always was struck by what a remarkable person he was.
He was tall, handsome, sincerely personable and always looked like he’d just stepped out of GQ magazine.
He also was smart, well-spoken and knew his issues inside and out.
Four years after he was elected to the Senate in 1992, he made history with his appointment to the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, one of the chamber’s most important committees.
Quite possibly, he was on his way to be this state’s first black lieutenant governor or attorney general. He was that kind of man – capable of bridging Mississippi’s thorny racial and geographic divides.
Then something terrible happened. In 1999, he nearly died from meningitis and never fully regained his hearing.
In the Senate, extensive technological changes took place to help him “hear” better.
Sen. Turner battled back but he never regained the effectiveness he’d had before his illness.
To the people who cared deeply about him, it was painful to see the changes. But Sen. Turner never wanted to be coddled because of them.
No doubt, he coped for better or worse at times.
Through it all, though, he retained the respect of his colleagues. And he never gave up trying to shape Mississippi into a better place for all her citizens.
Many, many Mississippians and others mourn his death at age 64. I cannot help but wonder about what might have been, snuffed out so quickly as all our lives are, in the end.
For folks like me, who take a close interest in the leadership dynamics of the Mississippi Legislature, Sen. Turner’s ultimate nemesis has claimed other significant careers of late.
Brain cancer took Sen. Jack Gordon of Okolona in May 2011.
Gordon, perhaps one of the modern-day Senate’s most colorful power figures, was a longtime Appropriations Committee chairman and one of the few people under the Capitol dome who really, really knew where all the money was.
In 2009, former Sen. Grey Ferris of Vicksburg, a lion among the state’s public education advocates, lost his battle with brain cancer.
Turner, Gordon and Ferris surely possessed and used more brainpower than many of us will ever know about.
But we knew Gordon and Ferris were ill.
Sen. Turner – quite the private man in his personal life – reportedly was about to tell his closest associates about his illness. His death Tuesday cut short that mission.
Our prayers go out to his wife, Edna, and their three grown children.
Godspeed, Sen. Turner.
Patsy R. Brumfield writes a Thursday column. Contact her at or (662) 678-1596. Follow her on Twitter @realnewsqueen.

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