Stuart C. Turner, 80, pastor, veteran, civil rights activist


The Rev. Stuart C. Turner, a Baltimore pastor, entrepreneur, civil rights activist and World War II veteran who used his charm and determination for everything from working with inmates to getting a kidney transplant, died Thursday at Union Memorial Hospital of complications from diabetes. He was 80 and lived in Mount Washington.

He was born in Ottoman, Va., and joined the Navy in 1943. He worked as a ship's cook at a time when that was one of the only posts open to African-Americans. The discrimination he faced in the military helped shape his views and contributed later to his dedication to the civil rights movement, said his granddaughter, Shara Khon Duncan of Baltimore. His job as a cook also led to a lifelong love of cooking.

Mr. Turner served on the USS Cabot during the war, and was onboard when the ship was hit by a kamikaze attack in the South Pacific, said his daughter, Karen Shelton of Towson. He served in the Navy until 1949.

He married Evetta Ballard in 1950. He worked for Bethlehem Steel, where he unloaded coal, and later managed the now-defunct Irving's Department Store. In the 1970s, he opened three wig and fabric stores in Baltimore.

Mr. Turner graduated from Morris College in Sumter, S.C., and was ordained in 1963 at the Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church, where he had been an usher, trustee and deacon. He went on to serve as the pastor of Mount Winans First Baptist Church and founded All People's Baptist Church in Westport.

Beginning in 1979, he worked as a missionary, traveling across the country and to the Bahamas to preach and establish religious studies schools. He received an honorary doctorate of divinity from the National Theological Seminary and College. He retired in the mid-1990s after his health worsened.

Active in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Baltimore, Mr. Turner participated in numerous sit-ins and rallies, his daughter said. His example inspired her to lead her own protests against discrimination at Western High School and to join the Baltimore City Police Department and the Baltimore County Police Department, she said.

After he helped quell unrest during a prison riot in the early 1960s, Mr. Turner became an adviser to the Maryland Department of Corrections, his daughter said. She credits his resourcefulness in sensitive situations to his "gift of gab."

"He could talk to anyone about anything," Ms. Shelton said.

In addition, Mr. Turner was a volunteer chaplain with the Baltimore City Police Department. For many years, he was also a volunteer Santa Claus at the department's annual Christmas party for underprivileged children - a role that didn't require extra padding or jolliness, said Mrs. Duncan.

A master storyteller, he enthralled family and friends with tales of his travels and the military, Mrs. Duncan said.

"He loved to laugh and make other people laugh," she said. "The way in our family is you find the hope and the laughter. Even if it was serious, he had a way of making it light. Not in a negative way, just to help you get through."

Mrs. Duncan said her grandfather once convinced the director of financial aid at Dartmouth College, where she was a student, that her financial aid package wasn't adequate.

He received a kidney transplant in 1999 - in part because he was able to talk his way into it, Mrs. Duncan said. "He was not the best candidate, but he got it done," she said. "It goes back to that charm. He always found a way."

Even when he lost his eyesight because of diabetes, family members would dial the phone for him, and "he would take it from there," Mrs. Duncan said.

A service will be held 11 a.m. Saturday at the Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church, 3100 Walbrook Ave.

In addition to his wife, daughter and granddaughter, he is survived by a son, the Rev. Gregory C. Turner of Paterson, N.J.; four other grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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