Florida A&M University (FAMU) has lost one of its brightest stars and trailblazing researchers, Ralph W. Turner, Ph.D. The former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences dedicated nearly 50 years of service to FAMU and retired as a distinguished chemistry professor in 2016. He passed away on Dec. 26, while visiting family in Philadelphia. Turner was 80 years old.
Family and friends will celebrate his life during his funeral on Saturday, Jan. 13 at 11 a.m. at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 839 Cedar Springs Highway in Jakin, Georgia. A viewing will take place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., at the church.
Friends and colleagues recall Turner’s remarkable commitment to students, FAMU and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). He earned his bachelor’s degree from an HBCU, Johnson C. Smith University, where he was student body president.
Former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries, Ph.D., met Turner in 1959 when both men began graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where they earned doctoral degrees in chemistry.
“He was an extremely talented man,” said Humphries. “He had tremendous discipline. He worked hard. He had an ability that sustained him when things got tough to stay in there and get a good resolution no matter the issue.”
Turner’s tenure at FAMU began in 1967 when he accepted a position with the Department of Chemistry as an associate professor. He would rise to the ranks of full professor, department chair and associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. In 2006, Turner was promoted to interim dean of the college and served as dean from 2008 until 2012.
“As a faculty member and an administrator, Dr. Turner served FAMU with distinction and was a role model and mentor to students, faculty and staff,” said FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D.
“When people learn of Ralph’s passing, there are going to be a lot of sad people who are FAMU graduates,” said Humphries. “Ralph’s interaction helped them fashion their lives and be successful. He was one of the stars of Florida A&M University. He was the type of professor a president would like to hire a whole university full of. He was a terrific mentor to students and a terrific believer in what FAMU was doing.”
Turner influenced firsthand the lives of many students who would pursue medical careers and other professions. Dr. Humphries recalled he had a gift for developing organic metallic compounds and explaining complex chemistry in a way that would help many students earn doctoral degrees.
“He was an excellent instructor. He used to just lecture off the top of his head without notes or a book,” said Jason Black, Ph.D. “He loved to talk to students about life and would find a way to merge real life into his chemistry instructions. He talked all the time about growing up on a farm in Blakely, Georgia and how that drove his love for science.”
Black is just one of hundreds of former students who have been sharing memories about Turner on social media. Black is an associate professor with FAMU’s School of Business and Industry and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Creativity and Innovation. He expressed gratitude to Turner for hiring him to work for the Florida Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (FGLSAMP) after he received his master’s degree.
Turner was project director of the FGLSAMP from 2001-2016. The coalition comprises 14 Florida colleges and universities that receive National Science Foundation funding and support to increase the number of underrepresented minority students earning degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. He held other administrative positions that included director of Title III Programs at FAMU.