Bill and Sue Marie Turner to be recognized at first annual servant leadership gala event

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 2, 2012 

It will be an October to remember for Sue Marie and Bill Turner. The couple will celebrate their 64th anniversary Monday. Then Bill will turn 90 four days later, his family gathered around him.

That same day, Oct. 11, the Columbus couple linked so deeply to giving back to the community will be honored at a gala at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center, an event that will become an annual affair.

"We're naming it the Sue Marie and Bill Turner Servant Leadership Gala," said Ron King, executive director and chief executive officer of the Pastoral Institute, which Turner co-founded in 1974, also in October. "Each year, we will honor a couple in the community that we think embodies the servant leadership spirit and as a couple has contributed to this community."

Tickets are on sale through this Thursday for the inaugural Sue Marie and Bill Turner Servant Leadership Gala, an event King expects will be well attended because of the philanthropy and "love" the couple have shown the community through the years. That has included Turner's simple act of teaching Sunday School at church for more than 50 years.

"We talk about it being a vision born out of love. That's Mr. Bill's word," King said. "He uses love in the corporate world, which nobody else does that. But he really means it and lives it day in and day out."

It was on Oct. 8, 1948, that Sue Marie and Bill wed just after his starting work at the W.C. Bradley Co., founded in 1885 by his grandfather, William Clark Bradley.

The couple has six children, 21 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and five more on the way.

Bill Turner himself is a former W.C. Bradley Co. chief executive who has served on the boards of directors of that company, as well as that of Synovus Financial Corp. and Coca-Cola Co.

He also served on the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.

He helped launch the Pastoral Institute 38 years ago with three other community leaders -- Richard Robertson, Herschel Allen and George Zubowicz.

The mission of the organization is to assist those who are going through difficult and traumatic times in their lives. It provides counseling and educational resources, and offers an Employee Assistance Program used by many local businesses.

Turner also authored the book, "The Learning of Love: A Journey Toward Servant Leadership," which calls on people and companies to foster a "caring and cooperating community, emphasizing service and involvement, a balanced approach to life and work, and a sharing of responsibility and recognition," according to the Pastoral Institute website.

It was in 1999 that the institute and Columbus State University started a four-year program aimed at developing servant leadership among the corporate and business ranks. More than 200 people have gone through the program, according to the institute, volunteering more than 76,000 hours of their time in the community as well.

"I didn't invent servant leadership. I inherited it," Turner told Georgia Trend magazine in a September article on him. "When I started reaching and preaching it, I thought, 'Man, my family has been doing that for years.' I just added a few wrinkles to it."

As if that weren't enough, the philanthropic endeavors of Turner and his family's nonprofit Bradley-Turner Foundation have left indelible marks throughout Columbus.

The organization has contributed in some way to the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, the Columbus Museum, the Muscogee County School District, the Bradley Center, Columbus State University, the Coca-Cola Space Science Center, the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, the Historic Columbus Foundation, the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus, the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center, and the Springer Opera House.

Tens of millions of dollars from the foundation have gone to support those organizations and other causes, although Turner has consistently taken a low-key approach publicly to the family's charitable nature.

"You would never know the man does all he does," King said. "But he truly is a visionary. He wakes up about 4 or 4:30 every morning -- and he still does this -- thinking about what he can do to make the world a better place than how he found it, and how he can make our community stronger and make Georgia stronger."

The humble Turner is now having to get used to the attention for his work and involvement in the community and business world.

Several weeks ago, he received the Blanchard Award for Outstanding Stewardship and Ethics in Business at the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, preceding former President George W. Bush's appearance at the event.

And while the Turners will be the main attraction at the upcoming inaugural gala, there will be more on the evening's menu.

Addressing those gathered inside the Trade Center's ballroom will be Jim Morris, an author and motivational speaker who pitched in the Major Leagues for the first time at age 35, playing for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and appearing in 20 games in 1999 and 2000 before being released because of arm injuries.

Morris' autobiography, "The Oldest Rookie," led to the 2002 Disney movie, "The Rookie," in which his journey to baseball's top ranks was chronicled, with actor Dennis Quaid playing him.

Tickets for the gala start at $150 per person, with a "Friend of the Pastoral Institute" table for four costing $1,000 and a patron table of eight going for $2,500.

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