For more than sixty years, D. Abbott Turner was a central figure in Columbus and the larger Georgia business community. As the son-in-law of W. C. Bradley and the heir to the W. C. Bradley Company legacy, he was also active in philanthropy and community leadership. He built on the W. C. Bradley model of business integrity that is still associated with the Bradley family and business enterprises today.
Don Abbott Turner was born in Macon on October 24, 1892, to Nell Gardiner and John Lovick Turner. Although he did not live in Columbus until he was an adult, Turner’s roots in Columbus were deep; he was descended from ministers Lovick Pierce and George Foster Pierce, both of whom pastored at St. Luke United Methodist Church. Turner and his family were active members of St. Luke’s throughout his life in Columbus.
Turner moved to Columbus in 1913 to work as a private secretary for the local manager of Stone and Webster, a Boston, Massachusetts–based firm that was acquiring water power and electricity generation facilities in several southern cities. In 1907 Stone and Webster had purchased the Bibb Company’s Columbus Power Company, which later became part of the Georgia Power Company. Later in his business career, Turner would serve as a director for Georgia Power.
In 1917 Turner married Elizabeth Bradley, the daughter of W. C. Bradley. The Turners had three children, Sarah Louise, William (
At about the same time as his marriage, Turner assumed management of the steamboats that were owned by W. C. Bradley. In an interview conducted in 1976, Turner recalled that he “got his education” by running the steamboats. (He had not attended college.) In 1923, realizing that transportation technology had begun to change, Turner suggested that Bradley donate the steamboats to the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. Bradley did so, along with some operating capital; however, the steamboats soon ceased to be a profitable means of cargo transportation on the Chattahoochee River.
Over the next thirty years, Turner worked in various capacities within the Bradley empire. Ultimately, he became president and chairman of the boards of the W. C. Bradley Company and of the Columbus Bank and Trust. Upon Bradley’s death Turner served as executor of his estate.
Turner also served in other business leadership capacities, including as a board member for Coca-Cola, Georgia Power, the Central of Georgia Railway, and the Bibb Company. In volunteer capacities, he was a trustee for Emory College (later Emory University) in Atlanta and Wesleyan College in Macon, and he was influential in the development and support of the Epworth by the Sea retreat center on St. Simons Island.
In Columbus, Turner and his wife were among the creators of the Bradley Center, which provides counseling and mental health assistance. It opened in 1955 and is now part of St. Francis Hospital. A spin-off from the Bradley Center is the Pastoral Institute, which offers educational, training, and counseling programs.
The Turners were early supporters of efforts to build the Columbus Museum, which is considered one of the South’s finest cultural institutions, and after the death of his wife, Turner established the Center for Continuing Education at Columbus State University, which is named in her honor.
In 1943 W. C. Bradley created a foundation, which Turner administered after Bradley’s death. In 1961 Turner created the D. Abbott and Elizabeth Bradley Turner Foundation, and in 1982, upon Turner’s death, the two foundations merged to form the Bradley-Turner Foundation.
In 1948 Turner filled the role of interim city commissioner in Columbus, becoming the only member of his family to enter the political arena.
After Turner’s son, Bill, became chief executive officer of the W. C. Bradley Company in 1973, Turner retired, although he continued to visit the W. C. Bradley Company and Columbus Bank and Trust daily. He took Thursdays off for hunting and fishing, pastimes he pursued until his death.
In The Learning of Love: A Journey toward Servant Leadership (2000), Bill Turner writes that his father filled the role of “caretaker” in the Bradley enterprises until his son was ready for the job. (When Bill Turner was eight years old, Bradley designated him heir to the company leadership.) Throughout this period of caretaking, Turner was a pillar of integrity and stability who kept the company and his family “on track,” even as they adapted to the changing conditions of life. Bill Turner identifies his father’s religious faith as the root of his concept of servant leadership, which has brought acclaim to his companies as good places to work, in addition to being prosperous business enterprises.
Turner died on August 11, 1982.