Growing up, Van Turner described himself as a good listener.
No one can attest to that more than Stan Collins, who coached Turner during his days as a football player for Whitehaven High.
As Collins is quick to recall, Turner exhibited something one can’t merely teach. That is, an individual who deemed it necessary to esteem others above himself.
“He’s true to form on that because all good leaders are first good followers,” Collins, who coached at Whitehaven from 1979-1996, told MemphiSport. “That he entails that, you know he was listening when he was younger.”
More than two decades later, Turner realizes his listening skills could prove beneficial, let alone parlay what could jump-start a monumental chapter in his career as a flourishing Memphis-based attorney. Turner, 39, is running to fill the office of Shelby County Commission District 12.
The newly-established seat, which covers areas between eastern Hickory Hill Road and Hacks Cross in Southeast Memphis, surfaced as a result of a vote by the County Commission to eliminate what they deemed “Super Districts” and organize single sectors.
For Turner, occupying such a seat once all ballots are cast following the August 7 general election would further strengthen a resume for someone is relatively new to the local political arena. Turner twice was named chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party in 2009 and 2011.
Prior to assuming that post, he volunteered to work alongside Harold Ford, Jr. when the former chairman of the now-defunct Democratic Leadership Council ran for the U. S. Senate in 2002 and 2006.
As for overseeing the local democratic party, Turner said, “It really a launched me, especially in 2009. It was a hard-fought campaign. As a newcomer, I had to convince these democratic stalwarts that I was worthy of a chance. So when they gave me that chance, I was excited.”
Even during his days as an athlete, Turner established a reputation as one who took advantage of golden opportunities. After lettering on special teams his entire high school career and playing a significant amount minutes at the wideout position, Turner was installed as a full fledge starter on offense his senior year. To his credit, he evolved into one of Whitehaven’s most efficient players, in large part because of his blazing speed.
Such a key attribute drew rave reviews from college scouts, given Whitehaven was viewed as a revolving door, of sorts, for recruiters, many of whom routinely visited the school in hopes of landing quality players.
Turner, it turned out, was among those who had left a favorable impression on college coaches, considering he was offered scholarships to play football at Tennessee Tech and Duke. However, after consulting with his spiritual father, former Metropolitan Baptist Church pastor Fred C. Lofton, Turner sensed enrolling at Morehouse College would best suit him.
“More than anything, football taught me discipline and fortunately I was able to attend Morehouse,” Turner said. “(Earning an academic scholarship to Morehouse) was something I couldn’t say no to. Going to school in the shadows of Martin Luther King, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, and many others was something I couldn’t pass up.”
After graduating from Morehouse in 1997 with a degree in English and Linguistics, Turner moved to Japan, where he spent two years as an English instructor. Upon returning to the states, he enrolled in the University of Tennessee College of Law.Consequently, he embarked what has been a stellar law career when he began working for a sizable and notable Memphis-based firm. Three years later, he partnered with Monice Moore Hagler and T. Kevin Bruce to form what is now Hagler-Bruce-Turner, or HBT.
As Turner explains, there is a unique correlation between playing football and practicing law.
“What I learned on the football field helped me in law,” said Turner, who has been married for 12 years to his high school girlfriend, Tammie Turner. “You have to overcome fears. Law school was intimidating. What you learn in law school is that everyone was in the top of their class. You’re with the brightest of the brightest. In football, Whitehaven had to compete with the best. So you’ve got to work harder and you’ve got to play harder, and you’ve got to want it more than others.”
If elected to oversee District 12, Turner said among his key objectives would be to place an emphasis on education and job growth, particularly in a Hickory Hill community where a number of businesses have either ceased operations or relocated to other areas.
“I think that Memphis and Shelby County are positioned for greatness,” Turner said. “But I think it’s to take strong leadership, compromising when necessary and fighting when necessary to make sure our schools properly funded to sustain our communities. I’m vested. I just think we have to get it right as it relates to education. We’re educating our future leaders, business owners, and public servants through education.
“We have to grow small businesses,” Turner added. “Small businesses are the No. 1 mechanism for hire, which supports other businesses. That has to be a basic premise to operate from.”
All predispositions aside, Collins said Turner’s track record as a fledging political figure is such that he should be considered a heavy favorite to solidify the Shelby County Commission District 12 seat.
“Clearly, not only should he be the frontrunner,” said Collins, “but Van should be the winner when this is all over with. When the dust settles, Van should be the winner of this race and Memphis will be better for it.”
Among the reasons is that Turner pledges to do more listening than talking while serving the citizens of Memphis.