Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Reflections From My Mom - Former Mayor Betty Turner of Corpus Christi, Texas

CORPUS CHRISTI - Though she was reared 30 minutes outside of New York City, former Corpus Christi Mayor Betty Turner is a true Texan.  Her eyes still shine when talking about her first trip down to Texas as a junior at Vassar College in the 1950s.

"I told my father that I didn't want to spend four years of college at an all-girls school," Turner said in her apartment at the Mirador senior living community. "He said if I went to the school, for my junior year I could go to Europe, Florida, wherever."

Turner  chose to work with her father, who she called her inspiration, in his publishing business in Texas and enrolled for a semester  at Texas A&I University, now Texas A&M-Kingsville, and met the man who would become her husband,  Jack Rice Turner.

"I got here as quick as I could," she said. "He was in the Navy. As soon as he finished his naval term, we came to Texas and never left Texas."

New York's loss of Betty Adams Noble became Corpus Christi's gain of Betty Noble Turner  who would go on to become the first woman elected mayor of the Sparkling City by the Sea.

"I've been very blessed with incredible opportunities to become involved with the people in this community," Turner said. "The dividends in terms of knowledge, friendships have been just overpowering."

In the 1980s, the city was plagued by a recession like most of the country. Oil prices had sunk, and much of the town was out of work.

When Turner was voted into office in 1987, she took a creative approach to the city's issues rather than fix them with a temporary  Band-Aid. She had worked as mayor pro tern from 1981-1985, and had been on city council since 1979. During her years of public service, she helped create the area's Regional Transportation Authority,
pushed for bringing the Lexington Museum on the Bay to the city, rode the top of submarine and threw the first pitch at a Houston Astros game on Corpus Christi Day.  Current Mayor Nelda Martinez said Turner "opened the door for women" and "loves Corpus Christi."

"What's been so great about Betty is that she's stayed engaged and involved in the community," Martinez said. "She engaged with community leaders in making the Texas State Aquarium a reality. That's such a success story. She's promoted  Corpus Christi very well."

"There had never been (a female mayor in Corpus Christi)," she said. "People thought a woman's place was in the house... more like the House of Representatives and the mayor's office." Turner, now 83, also still keeps busy.

In the years since the end of her term in 1991, Turner  has remained a revered public figure in Corpus Christi through the Chamber of Commerce and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She has served as president of the Food Bank of Corpus Christi, Boys and Girls Club and helped run campaigns for local politicians.

These days, Turner splits her time between Mirador and Port Aransas and still operates a real estate business which she has done for more than 40 years. She recently finished a personal book of her husband's life, complete with photos from their marriage of more than 6o years.

She and her husband, Jack, take annual summer trips to Oaxaca and Cancun in Mexico. There are walls of shelves in her home that display a decades-old, and still growing, collection of Mexican folk art.

She has spent her adult life embracing and sharing her love of Tejano and Mexican culture.

"Everything about Mexico I like - the music, the colors, the flowers, the art," she said. Her heart though will always belong to the city she led for so long.
Turner sees Texas now as she did when she first arrived as a young woman, and still believes in the enduring beauty and power of Corpus Christi.

"It's a great place to live in," she said. "Right now, it's exploding."