The news of Dr. Ken Turner’s death at the age of 57 shocked and saddened his many friends and colleagues in the Department of Anthropology and in the wider University of Alabama community. Dr. Turner was assistant professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory of Human Osteology at UA from 1974 until 1993. He left UA to assume the position of director of the No Man’s Land Museum of Oklahoma, where he served until his death on October 24, 2003.
Although he left us a decade ago no one who knew Ken will ever forget his many contributions to this university and to the people of Alabama. He systematized, cataloged and preserved one of the great osteological collections of the nation. Despite all of the painstaking work that he personally put into the collection, he was gracious and unstinting in the assistance that he rendered to scholars from other institutions who came to Tuscaloosa to study a very valuable scientific resource. Ken was equally generous with his time in helping Alabama law enforcement with many forensic consultations over the years.
Ken Turner was also a very dedicated, conscientious and effective teacher who demanded much from his students and drew out of them the very best work of which they were capable. Mark Hovezak, one of Ken’s students from the mid-1970s, expressed the sentiments of many when he wrote this about his professor:
I took my first Anthropology classes from Ken at The University of Alabama in 1976. He was an inspiring teacher and I responded to the enthusiasm he brought to his subjects with scholarly devotion. As a result, Ken recommended me for my first job in archaeology and became an academic advisor for my undergraduate education. He provided a bright, strong and cheerful guiding light for students who were searching for their path in life. Ken was one of those few, truly unforgettable teachers one encounters in life.
His friends and colleagues benefited greatly from his vast knowledge of biological anthropology and enjoyed his unfailing collegiality, always seasoned with a unique sense of humor that never failed to produce smiles all around. He is survived by his wife Dr. Kathleen Turner, Associate Professor of English at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.