On January 4, 1994, Morris Turner woke up to one of the biggest blizzards of his lifetime. Three feet of snow were packed around the wheels of his car, Pittsburgh schools were shut and residents had been warned to stay off the roads, but he needed to deliver a baby, so he walked from his home in Point Breeze to the Magee-Womens Hospital in Oakland. It took him over an hour.
The commitment and tenacity of the beloved Pittsburgh obstetrician-gynecologist will be missed. He collapsed of a cardiac arrest while playing tennis Monday, and paramedics were unable to revive him. He was 65.
Dr. Turner was the medical director for the Magee-Womens outreach sites at Wilkinsburg and Monroeville; the medical director for Adagio Health; and the chief of service for obstetrics and gynecology at McKeesport Hospital. He had previously been the leader of many other medical initiatives in the Pittsburgh area. But even more impressive than all of these titles was his devotion to bringing health to women in underserved communities.
“He spent his entire career trying to do away with health care disparities,” said Allen Hogge, chair of the OB-GYN department at UPMC.
Dr. Turner was born October 2, 1948, in Barley, Ga., to a poor family of sharecroppers. When he wasn’t in the three-room shack that served as the Barley Colored Elementary School, he was in the fields, earning 50 cents a day cropping tobacco and picking cotton. Still, his family could not afford the 10-cent lunches at school. Once, his teacher withdrew him from a spelling bee because his mother had visibly wired the sole back onto his shoe.
At 16, he went off to study biology and chemistry at Morehouse College, in Atlanta, on a full scholarship. While a student, he participated in sit-ins and marches with civil rights luminaries like Martin Luther King Jr. In 1968, he married Verena Turner.
As a child, he heard about the deaths caused by back-alley abortions; as a medical student before Roe v. Wade, he saw their effects first-hand. “His mission was to stop women from bleeding to death,” Ms. Turner said.
When he graduated from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1973, he became one of the few abortion providers in the city. Protesters chained themselves to his clinics, and marched outside with signs.
“The antis were shooting abortion doctors,” said Charlynn Bailey, a nurse practitioner who worked with Dr. Turner for 42 years. “When protesters call out your name, call you ‘baby-killer,’ it’s a scary thing. But it just cemented his resolve that this was necessary.”
His determination was legendary. When he was seven or eight, he was fishing in the backwoods when he caught a six-foot longnose gar. “The fish was pulling him into the water before his father shot it,” his son Morris Turner Jr. said, who loved to fish with his father.
Dr. Turner was beloved by his patients. He could put you at ease with a smile or a hug. “He treated me like I was his daughter,” said Kristina Compton, a patient who became a friend.
In salons and on street corners, his family is recognized by people who were delivered by Dr. Turner, people whose lives he saved.
He is survived by his wife Verena Turner of Point Breeze; his siblings Amos Johnson and Joevelyn Rountree of Georgia,his children, Morris Jr. of Green Tree, Derrick of Penn Hills, Jonathan of Georgia and Kielah of Point Breeze; and six grandchildren.
Services will be held at the Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, 271 Paulson Ave., Larimer. Visitation is 3 to 8 p.m. Monday. The funeral is Tuesday. and the funeral Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. Professional services are entrusted to Coston Funeral Home.
Eric Boodman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3772.