Alum Honored for Advocacy for Blind

Written by: 
Jessica DeLeĆ³n
John Turner ('57) was honored with a life-size bronze statue at the Frisco Heritage Center to celebrate his lifelong advocacy for the blind.

When John Turner ('57) first entered a classroom at North Texas in 1954, he had been blind for just six months. A detached retina, due to a hereditary weakness, affected his sight. But his time as a marketing student on campus paved the way for a successful career in the insurance industry and as an advocate for the blind.

This summer, a life-size bronze statue of former Frisco resident Turner and a guide dog -- a composite of the eight dogs who have served as his companions through the years -- was unveiled at the Frisco Heritage Center. His life-long friend, David Griffin, donated the statue as a reminder to others to never give up. The two met as first-graders in a one-room schoolhouse in Frisco and grew up together.

Turner drew attention on his first day of speech class at North Texas when his first guide dog brushed the leg of a fellow student, the late Bill Nicholas, a colonel in the Marine Corps. Nicholas invited Turner to coffee and offered to tutor him -- a lifesaver since it took months for his textbooks to be recorded.

"He also gave me eight years of Marine Corps discipline," Turner says of Nicholas, who later owned a dry cleaner franchise in El Paso. "He was my tutor, my teacher, my professor."

Turner also pledged the Kappa Alpha fraternity and served as junior class president. He was elected student body president his senior year in a tight race that required a recount.

"That was a happy occasion, especially if you don't like to lose," he says.

At the end of his senior year, Turner began hunting for a post-graduation job. But he was having trouble finding a company that would hire an employee who was blind. So marketing professor John Brooks wrote to 15 life insurance companies in Dallas, touting Turner's skills. That led to a job and his successful 60-year career as an independent broker in the Dallas insurance industry. Turner also served as a member of the Texas Commission for the Blind. He is now writing a memoir told from his current dog Eben's point of view.

"I've had a great life," Turner says.