RIP: Billy Turner, journalist, Methodist preacher, friend
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.
Billy Turner obituary.