RIP: Billy Turner, journalist, Methodist preacher, friend

Billy Turner
Billy Turner
Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

GRETNA, La. — At Billy Turner’s Memorial Service today, preachers spoke eloquently of his passion for Jesus Christ, his family, the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Braves – in pretty much that order.

They could also have talked about his passion for high school football, newspapers, music and good storytelling. Billy was passionate about all those, as well.

Billy Turner was a sports journalist turned Methodist preacher. He poured his soul into both occupations. When he left newspapers, his writing ability and command of the language surely helped him in his second career.

The Rev. Billy Turner was a Meridian native, who went to Mississippi State and loved Archie Manning, Deuce McAllister and Dale Murphy.

He worked for the Meridian Star, the Jackson Daily News, The Clarion-Ledger and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, among other newspapers.

At the Daily News and The Clarion-Ledger, he made me look good, helped us win state, regional and national sports section awards. When I became the sports editor over the two Jackson newspapers, I hired Billy as deputy sports editor. What does that mean? In our case, it meant that Billy ran the day-to-day operations of the sports department so I could do what I love to do most, which is write.

Billy was fantastic. He was a fine writer, page designer and editor. He was organized, and he was creative. You rarely get that combination.

He was so jazzed about the daily product that his enthusiasm rubbed off on others. At one point, I really believe we were producing the best mid-sized daily sports section in the country and a better one than many huge metro papers. Billy was the engine, the energy, behind it.

Two quick stories:

• When we hired Billy for the second time, we hired him away from the Reno, Nev., newspaper where he was the sports editor. We brought him in for what really was a needless job interview. I mean, we knew we wanted him. He knew he wanted to come. So, he was walking back to his motel after the interview and got mugged, beaten and robbed. Thankfully, he took the job anyway. He really missed Mississippi.

• One morning he was supposed to put out the afternoon Jackson Daily News sports section, which meant he had to be in at 4:30 in the morning. He was driving a motorcycle at the time. On his way to work, two hours before dawn, a careless driver didn’t see him and Billy had to lay his bike down, causing significant internal injuries. Somehow, he got to the newspaper, put the section out and then checked himself into the hospital with broken ribs.

Believe this: He was strong-willed. He was dedicated.

After drastic staff reductions in Jackson, Billy moved on to New Orleans and The Times-Picayune where he rose to the sports editor position. He did splendid work there, but found himself less and less interested in the changing newspaper business and more and more interested in serving his Lord.

He became a preacher. From the accounts I heard at the memorial service, he was a really fine one. Appropriately, he preached his final sermon last week about “finishing strong.” He knew something about finishing strong. He always did. And he always beat deadline.

He was a fine man, who dearly loved his family. His son, an accomplished Jackson-based musician Jason Turner, sang beautifully at the service.

Billy Turner died of natural causes on his 63rd birthday, leaving this world a better place.

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Billy Turner obituary.

11 thoughts on “RIP: Billy Turner, journalist, Methodist preacher, friend”

  1. I am so sorry to hear this. As Rick has so eloquently put it, Billy was really one of the best, not just as a sports writer/editor but as a person, as I guess his move to become a Methodist minister indicates. One of the real good guys. He is gone far too early. Prayers to him and his family.

  2. Never knew or heard of Billy,but He must have been pretty good since He and Rick knew each other ! RIP Billy.

  3. Rick is dead on about Billy’s enthusiasm and passion. Daily News was a PM paper, meaning we arrived in the darkness of night often with little (and sometimes no) sleep. Billy would greet you with a big smile and laugh, tell stories about Meridian while on tight deadlines and proceed to put out a product the envy of any sports staff in the country. He made newspaper work fun. Sadly, the last time I saw Billy was at Orley Hood’s funeral. We have lost some good ones.

    1. Yes, we have, Scoop. Orley, Billy, Tom, Don, Clay, too many.
      That was the last time I saw Billy as well. We corresponded some, but not enough. Boy, you talk about a guy who made major changes in his lifestyle and his life.

  4. What a beautiful article about a beautiful soul. I will never forget mr. Billy and the love he had for My family. He definitely touched the lives of many.

  5. Oh Billy, my friend,
    Your leaving us all means that you simply want us to put to use the teaching you have shared. My earthly body mourns the loss. But, my spiritual being celebrates
    As I know you are.eight next to my Father. I will miss youe blessings, your humor, your unfailing joy in knowing tnat Jesus wants to hold us and protect us. I PRAY I am with you or even near you in Christ’s kingdom… Mary, I have been blessed abundantly by.your friendship. My prayer is that your friends and family are able to help you adjust to this new life without his earthly presence. I love you and if ever. …EVER. ..EVER. ..I can offer any comfort, please call me. 504.251.8088.

  6. Well, I can’t say that I knew Billy but from your eloquent tribute and that of Scoop’s and others, he must have been one fine guy. I did meet him a couple of times and we talked about checking out our mutual Turner family trees – but, regrettably, didn’t get around to it.

  7. Rick,
    Did not learn about Billy’s death until I read about it in the Times-Picayune and then your story. I think about all the “teammates” we had at the Jackson newspapers — Lee Baker, Clay Harden, Don Collins, Tom Patterson — who have gone on to the big celestial newsroom on the other side of the great divide — and it reminds me of just how good a thing we had going for so long.

  8. Had a brain cramp and inadvertently left out Orley Hood’s name in my previous post. Mention also should be made of the recent passing of Lee Baker’s widow, Lucinda, with whom I remained in contact after I left Jackson for Pennsylvania and until her death. Another lovely person, and a loss to all who knew her.

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