Dr. Leon Turner is in the spotlight of an ongoing series about people who have been heroes to me in veterinary medicine.
I began the educational process toward being a veterinarian while I was still teaching microwave communications electronics in the United States Air Force, taking freshman courses offered by Jefferson Davis Junior College and the University of Southern Mississippi. The Air Force made it easy, paying part of our tuition and providing classes on-site at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, MS.
Meanwhile, most other aspiring veterinarians in the state were attending classes on campus at Mississippi State University (MSU).
When my enlistment was finished, I found myself in Oxford, MS, and began taking classes at the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss. However, coordination of undergraduate work had to be directed by MSU personnel, which is how I came to meet with Dr. Turner.
A veterinarian, he asked me about my background and interest in animals. I related how I had developed my passion working alongside my Uncle Sam on his dairy farm. During a lull in the questioning I asked him how he came to find himself an academician.
“I had begun a mixed practice [large (farm) and small animals (dogs and cats)] in Louisville, MS. One winter day I was lying in a muddy cattle pen in a cold rain, trying to help a downer cow deliver her calf. The farmer who owned the cow looked down at me and the farmer said, ‘That-there vetinary…that’s a six-week course at State College, ain’t it?’”
“That’s when I knew there had to be something better in veterinary medicine for me.”
Dr. Turner went to Mississippi State University and became a professor. Part of his duties involved acting as one of several guidance counselors to the roughly five-hundred young women and men vying for 15 slots in Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s 1976 freshman class.
Dr. Turner and I clicked instantly.
He guided me with love and a firm hand. He asked, “Jim, do you want to begin your veterinary schooling right away at Auburn University, or next year in the first class at Mississippi State?”
Sooner was better, was my reply.
“In that case, I can see about getting a waiver for you to take [Large Animal] Nutrition I and II concurrently. They are normally taken consecutively, as I is a prerequisite for II. That will be hard, as there will be knowledge you will need from I that you won’t yet have in II. But, I’m confident you can do it.”
That wasn’t his real blockbuster, though.
“In addition, if you are to finish all of your required courses for an application to Auburn this year, you will have to take 28 semester hours in the Spring semester. Are you up for that?”
“Sure,” I said, confidently, not having any idea what 28 semester hours would be like.
Dr. Turner later helped me with my application, as he did with every contender assigned to him. He coached me on my personal interview. And, when the decisions came in from Auburn, it was a thumbs-up for me.
Pending a successful finish of those 28 hours, that is.
Thanks to Dr. Turner, I was able to attend a school with nearly a century of history instead of waiting a year to enter the first class in a brand-new, untested program.
I was not the only MSU student to appreciate Leon Turner, however. Now, an award stands in recognition of his contributions to untold thousands of students: Leon Turner Award for Merit Demonstrated in General Pathology and Swine Medicine.
Sadly, Dr. Turner lost his life much too young. Yet, he lives on in the hearts and memories of the students he loved and mentored.
See you next week, Dr. Randolph.
My friend and classmate, Dr. Tom Watts, of Columbia, MS, has a quote recollection about Dr. Turner: “”Yes son, I have found three cures for Demodectic mange in the dog. Unfortunately, they all kill the dog.”