Grover White "Buddy" Turner Jr. (1923–1998)
G. W. “Buddy” Turner Jr. was an influential member of the Arkansas House of Representatives in the latter part of the twentieth century who helped shape state policy throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
Grover White Turner Jr. was born on August 15, 1923, in Thornton (Calhoun County) to Grover White Turner and Ollie Robinson Turner. He grew up in Rison (Cleveland County), where he helped his family on the farm his father had bought during the Great Depression. In addition to picking and chopping cotton on the farm, he worked at the family store, which, in addition to a sawmill, his father had also acquired. Eventually, Turner became an accomplished meat cutter. By the time he graduated from Rison High School, Turner had developed his own business, buying and selling brass and copper.
After graduation, Turner enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he served as an electrical specialist on the B-29 during World War II. He also earned a reputation as one of the military’s “most tenacious amateur boxers, having never lost a bout in three years,” a status he proudly trumpeted years later in his campaign material.
After the war, he returned to Arkansas and attended what later became Henderson State University in Arkadelphia (Clark County), where he earned a degree in business. He later earned a master’s degree at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).
Following college, Turner embarked on a career as an educator. A teacher and a coach, he also served as superintendent of the high school in Tinsman (Calhoun County). He married Sue Dickinson, a teacher, in 1949; the couple had three children.
After moving to Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), he served as principal of Sam Taylor School. His service to the town was recognized in his selection as Pine Bluff’s Young Man of the Year in 1958.
Turner was first elected to the Arkansas House of Representatives in 1960, and he served until 1993, serving as speaker of the House from 1973 to 1975. Over the course of his career, he was on the Joint Budget Committee and chaired the Rules Committee, but it was in his work with education that he really distinguished himself. Tim Massanelli, assistant to the speaker of the state House of Representatives, asserted that Turner “was instrumental in all of the positive legislation dealing with education,” and upon Turner’s announcement of his retirement, Governor Bill Clinton observed, “The children of Arkansas owe a debt of gratitude to Buddy for all his hard work in the Legislature.” Typical of his work was the School Cooperative Act, of which he was a co-author. The law permitted small schools to share teachers in subjects such as science and math.
At the same time that Turner was moving into politics, he was also launching a successful business career. He owned Turner and Co., an independent insurance agency and realty company, and was co-founder of the Pine Bluff National Bank, the South Arkansas Savings and Loan, the Pine Bluff Title Co., and First Arkansas Title Insurance Co. Turner was also active in the Lakeside United Methodist Church in Pine Bluff and the First United Methodist Church in Hot Springs (Garland County).
Late in his legislative career, Turner and his wife bought a home on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs, and after his retirement from the House, they lived there permanently. Turner died on August 6, 1998, in Hot Springs after a lengthy battle with cancer. He is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Pine Bluff.
For additional information:
Ault, Larr. “G. W. ‘Buddy’ Turner Jr., Former State Representative, Advocate for Education, Veteran.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 8, 1998.
Lancaster, Bill “Scoop.” Inside the Arkansas Legislature. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2015.
William H. Pruden III
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