In Memoriam: James E. Turner Jr., former rector of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors and member of the National Academy of Engineering
January 2, 2018
James E. Turner Jr. ’56 of Suffolk, Virginia, a distinguished and devoted alumnus who served on the university’s Board of Visitors from 1994 to 2002 and was rector from 1997 to 2002, died Dec. 27, 2017. He was 83.
A native of Virginia’s Isle of Wight County, Turner earned his bachelor’s in agricultural engineering. He started his career with Newport News Shipbuilding in 1957. Over the next 43 years, he held positions of increasing responsibility at that company, Westinghouse, and General Dynamics, from which he retired as president and chief operating officer in 2000.
In 1998, Turner was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, which honored him for “leading the implementation of innovative engineering and design processes, and establishing a new standard for naval ship design and acquisition.”
The following year he received the Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz Award from the Navy League of the United States, which honors industry leaders who have made major contributions to U.S. maritime strength.
Turner was active as a student at Virginia Tech. He spent two years in the Corps of Cadets, played football, and was a member of the Tau Beta Pi and Phi Kappa Phi honor fraternities. He continued to maintain a close relationship with his alma mater throughout the years, serving on the Academy of Engineering Excellence, the Virginia Tech Foundation Board of Directors, the College of Engineering Committee of 100, and the university’s Board of Visitors.
Along with his wife, Elizabeth, Turner was a charter member of the President’s Circle within the Ut Prosim Society of Virginia Tech’s most generous donors.
In recognition of his accomplishments, service, and contributions, the university in 1994 presented Turner with the University Distinguished Achievement Award. He received the Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 2003, and the university's highest award, the William H. Ruffner Medal, in 2004.
“He was a very smart guy, but down to earth,” said O.A. Spady ’57, who met Turner in high school and remained in touch over the decades. “He loved Tech, like so many of us do, and was fortunate enough to be in a position to help it.”
“Jim was a great person and a valued friend,” said John R. Lawson II ’75, who like Turner has served on the Board of Visitors and been rector. “He was a giant of industry and all things Virginia Tech. What a fine example of how a gentleman should live his life. We will miss him.”
Turner’s dedication to Virginia Tech was matched by his dedication to his profession. He was a member of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, the American Society of Naval Engineers, the American Defense and Preparedness Association, the Navy League of the United States, and the Naval Submarine League, which awarded him the Naval Submarine League Distinguished Civilian Award in 2002.
Turner also was a Bartels Fellow at the University of New Haven, was a member of the USO World Board of Governors, and served on the National Security Industrial Association Board of Trustees. He was active within his community as a member of the North Suffolk Rotary Club and North Suffolk Social Club.
Turner is survived by his wife of 63 years, Elizabeth Nelms Turner; two sons, James Edwin Turner III and Steven L. Turner Sr. and wife Cindy; brother, Richard L. Turner and wife Pam; three grandchildren, Skye Catherine Taten and husband Bryce, Steven L. Turner Jr., and Adam J. Turner; and two great-grandchildren, Kai and Kalea Taten.