in Checking In

Uncle Fred Article

Bay Judge W.F. Turner dies at 81

By David Angier
News Herald Writer
747-5077 /

Judge W. Fred Turner thought that when he died he’d be remembered only for his part in one of the biggest court cases in American history.

But Turner’s colorful 81-year life — complete with his trademark red socks, pickled shrimp and the famous court cases he was involved with — will be the things that people will remember about him.

“Fred Turner’s the kind of guy you never forget,” Circuit Judge Glenn Hess said Monday. “Just meeting him added to your life.”

Turner was found dead Monday inside his Kings Point home.

“With his passing, we lost a lot of wisdom and a lot of history,” Circuit Judge Don T. Sirmons said. “He was a colorful guy. Everyone has their Fred Turner stories.”

“He was the last of what I consider to be the most colorful people of this local bar association,” Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet said. “Compared to him, we all seem to be such vanilla jurists.”

Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at Wilson Funeral Home. The family will receive friends at the funeral home from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Turner’s accomplishments ranged from his involvement with the Flying Tigers in World War II, to his part in one of the most significant U.S. Supreme Court cases in history.

Turner defended Clarence Earl Gideon in Gideon’s famous retrial in Panama City 40 years ago. Gideon was forced to represent himself at his first trial and was convicted in 1961 of burglarizing a local pool hall. His appeal to the Supreme Court, known as Gideon v. Wainwright, established the Public Defender’s Office in Florida and much of the nation.

In 1963, Gideon returned to Panama City to stand trial on the burglary charge, this time with Turner, who was appointed to represent Gideon.

Turner joked earlier this year that if he hadn’t won the retrial it would have undermined the Supreme Court’s argument.

Hess wasn’t joking Monday when he said Turner made history with that acquittal.

“That Supreme Court decision would have been a footnote among moldy volumes of law if it hadn’t been for Fred,” he said. “The Supreme Court said there’s a reason for somebody to have a lawyer at trial and he proved it.”

Turner had said that despite his long court career, he suspected he would be remembered only for Gideon.

“When I die, they’ll probably put over my grave, “Here lies Gideon’s lawyer,” Turner said.

He said that his life had grown quieter since 1997, when his wife, Helen, died. Gideon anniversary celebrations, like the ones this year across the state and nation, were the only excitement left to him.

“He seemed like such a lonely soul in those last few years,” Overstreet said.

Turner was honored in August for his participation in the Gideon case. He presented a historic marker at the Bay County Courthouse and met Gideon’s sons for the first time.

Sirmons said it was fortunate that the community had the opportunity to recognize Turner while he was alive.

Turner also was known at numerous golf courses in the county for his proficiency, personality and bright red socks.

Sirmons said the socks were his trademark trial apparel. He said he noticed Turner’s conspicuous absence this weekend from a golf tournament to benefit Millville schools.

“That’s the first thing I asked when I got there,” Sirmons said. “Fred wouldn’t have missed that tournament. He was a big supporter of Millville.”

Hess said the fox squirrels at the Panama Country Club will miss him as well.

“They would know Fred’s cart,” he said. “When they saw Fred coming they would run out and greet him because he would give them peanuts.”

Overstreet said the courthouse never will be the same without Turner’s visits with his famous pickled shrimp in hand.

Turner was born in Millville on April 17, 1922. He graduated from Bay High School and joined the military. He rose to the rank of captain before leaving for the University of Florida. He graduated in 1948 and returned to Bay County to practice law.

He was a private attorney until 1979, when he was elected to circuit judge. He stayed on the bench until 1991 and retired at the age of 70.

Turner had said he tried 109 murder cases in his career.

“Fred was proud to be from Panama City and Panama City had a reason to be proud of him,” Hess said.

This ran today in the Panama City News-Herald.
Here’s a link to the original story.
And here’s a PDF version of the paper (warning: 11MB file. High-speed users only).

  1. My Dad’s Hero, Uncle Fred, will long be remembered and celebrated in my family as patriot, patriarch, and celebrity. I didn’t know him well, but I will always remember his kind words and smile. I will miss him.


  2. Here’s the obituary from today’s News-Herald:

    Funeral services for W. Fred Turner, 81 of Panama City, Fla., who died at his home Sunday, Nov. 23, 2003, have been changed to Friday at 2 p.m. in the First Baptist Church of Panama City with the Rev. Bruce Raley officiating. Interment will follow in the Evergreen Memorial Gardens. The family will receive friends at the funeral home from 6 to 8 p.m. today. Those desiring to may make a contribution to the Bay High School Band, 1200 Harrison Ave., Panama City, FL 32401 or the American Heart Association in memory of Fred Turner.

Comments are closed.