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James A. "Jimmy" Turman

Obituary for James A. "Jimmy" Turman

November 29, 1927 - February 13, 2019
Lakeway, Texas | Age 91


James A. "Jimmy" Turman was born in 1927 in the Fannin County community of Leonard, Texas.

Turman was raised the son of a tenant farmer. He worked his way through East Texas State Teachers College, earning two degrees, a B.S. in 1948 and an M.S. in 1949. At 19, he began his career as teaching principal at Wolfe City's elementary-junior high school. At 24, he became a junior high school principal in Paris, Texas. He also was in the farming and cattle raising businesses and was a member of the Texas Farm Bureau at that time.

After two years in the Navy, he enrolled at the University of Texas and earned a Ph.D. in education and psychology in 1957. That's when Turman discovered a love for politics and decided to run for office. He was elected to the legislature in 1954, re-elected in 1956, and re-elected by a 3-to-1 margin in 1958.

As a legislator, Jimmy drew from his East Texas roots. By today's standards, his values were somewhat conservative -- steeped in courage, integrity, religion and personal honor.

At that time, Texas Observer editor Ronnie Dugger observed this about Turman:

"Jimmy Turman is what we in Texas call an East Texas Liberal… Coming from a town of 150 with four churches, last year he sponsored the bill to outlaw nudists, who certainly would not be welcome at Sunday school in Gober. On taxes, he is a liberal person, and on state spending he is a humanitarian."

Turman drew personal and political inspiration from a family friend and mentor from Bonham, Texas - former Texas and U.S. House Speaker Sam Rayburn — and followed in his footsteps to the Texas speaker's office in Austin.

The 1960 speaker's race was a tumultuous one, and it came down to two candidates: Turman and Wade Spillman of McAllen. The candidates drew a conservative line of distinction between themselves.

"I believe in less federal control in everything – farming, education, and so forth," Turman said. "In other words, I am a conservative states' righter. I'm a liberal in the areas of humanitarian needs, like education and welfare. But everything else, on a matter of any other item in state government, I'm just as conservative as the next man about spending a dollar…I favor trying to do at the state level what the state ought to do and not yielding to the federal government. If we do not provide adequate public education, we are going to have more federal intervention."

Speaker Pro-Tem DeWitt Hale delivered Turman's nominating speech. He said, in part:

"Here is a man admired and respected by all … He can wear the mantle of greatness without shedding the cloak of compassion or the hat of humility. He can match his ability with courage and a character. In short, the gentleman from Fannin County will measure up to the best of the illustrious men who have preceded him in this office…with full confidence in his ability…firm in the conviction that the soil of Fannin County has again given to the people of Texas another young man destined for greatness, I take immense pride and great pleasure in nominating … the distinguished gentleman from Fannin County, the Honorable James A. Turman."

Turman won the speaker's race by a vote of 83 to 66 and became the first speaker ever to hold a doctoral degree. During his speakership, the House Chamber was modernized with the installation of air conditioning, and saw to it that many rank-and-file members were assigned private offices in the Capitol building for the first time.

Turman was proud of his work to secure higher pay and fewer hours for Texas firefighters — and especially proud of two laws passed during his tenure: first, securing a pay raise for Texas teachers, and second, brokering an agreement with Governor Price Daniel on the sales tax bill. Turman initially cast the tie-breaking vote against the bill during the regular session after learning that Governor Daniel would veto it. The regular session ended without a bill, but by the end of a second consecutive special session, Speaker Turman and Governor Daniel forged an agreement: Governor Daniel would allow the tax to become law without his signature to keep the state from going broke.

Although it was not the first sales tax in Texas (cars, gasoline and cigarettes were already taxed), the 1961 Limited (2 percent) Sales and Use Tax was the first broad¬-based tax in the state —with exemptions for items such as groceries, medicines, agricultural implements and other services.

Fresh from the success of his speakership, Jimmy Turman announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor. He led four opponents in the 1962 primary election but was narrowly defeated in the runoff.

In 1963 Turman joined the U.S. Office of Education in Washington, D.C., and advanced to U.S. associate commissioner. He also served as a commissioner of the Education Commission of the States, and President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the Board of Foreign Scholarships. Turman served as director of the President's National Advisory Council on Extension and Continuing Education under presidents Nixon and Ford, and as a consultant to the President's Council on Physical Fitness.

Turman also founded and was president and chief executive officer of two national educational management-consulting corporations based in Alexandria, Virginia.

In 1979 Turman worked as Texas Congressman Jim Mattox's chief of staff and liaison to the House Budget Committee and then moved to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where he served as regional director of Refugee Resettlement in Dallas. He helped re-settle 500,000 Indochinese refugees across the U.S. (including along the Texas Gulf Coast) after the fall of Saigon.

After retiring from civil service in 1986 at the age of 58, he reentered state service as a senior research analyst working for Dr. John Duncan in the office of the state comptroller of public accounts (then led by Bob Bullock). He fully retired in 1990 at the age of 62, and spent the next 12 years traveling across the United States and Canada in an RV with his beloved wife, Joanie — and they achieved their goal of driving to every state capitol in the contiguous 49 U.S. states.

On his 80th birthday, Turman was surprised with what he would later say was his favorite gift: the naming of Fannin County State Highway 68 in his honor. The highway dedication took place the following summer in Fannin County, and it was attended by family and friends — including longtime friend, former NFL Coach Gene Stallings. He also was named a distinguished alumnus of Texas A&M University and the title of Third Degree Mason.

Speaker Turman passed away peacefully on February 13, 2019. He was 91. He was preceded in death by his father James Wesley Turman and mother Clive Scarborough Turman, and his son James A Turman, Jr. He is survived by his love, soulmate, best friend and confidante, Joanie Turman of Austin, Texas, and her family; and his sister, Mary Ann Reagan of Houston, Texas and her two daughters. He is also survived by his former brother-in-law, Dr. Billy R. Reagan of Houston, Texas

Speaker Turman will lie in state in the Texas House of Representatives Chambers on Friday, February 22nd, from Noon to 3:00 P.M. His memorial services will be held 2:30 P.M. Saturday February 23rd at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home, 3125 N. Lamar, Austin, Texas 78705. Graveside services at the Texas State Cemetery will be at 11:00 A.M. on Monday, February 25th, 2019. The Texas DPS Honor Guard will serve as pallbearers. Honorary Pallbearers will be Former Speakers of the Texas House of Representatives.

The family would thank his caregivers, including Debbie, Rosa, Anthony, Tanya, Crystal and many others. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the James A. "Jimmy" Turman Educational Endowment Fund at Texas A&M University in Commerce.

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Suggested Memorial Donations

  • In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the James A. "Jimmy" Turman Educational Endowment Fund at Texas A&M University in Commerce.

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Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North

3125 N Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78705
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