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Martha Holden Turner | 1922-2011

Davis Islands resident Martha Holden Turner dies at 89

DAVIS ISLANDS — Like many women of her generation, Martha Turner thought that being a homemaker and mother was as noble as any other calling. She never aspired to a career that would deliver a paycheck.

Yet she had a vital life outside her home.

Mrs. Turner studied constantly, earning her college degree right around the same time as her daughter. She never stopped taking classes and improving herself.

"She was kind of a Renaissance housewife," said her daughter, Nancy Turner. "She just loved learning."

Mrs. Turner was active and energetic until just a few weeks ago, when she suffered a debilitating stroke. She was 89 years old when she died Feb. 2. Her husband, Jake, had died from a stroke five years earlier.

Besides learning, her passions in life were for her family and altruism.

"She was just a great mom," her daughter said. "All my friends loved her. My friends became her friends."

Mrs. Turner was a tireless volunteer, working mostly through St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, where she was a long-time active member. "She was just always eager to help," her daughter said.

Her childhood in small-town North Carolina set the tone for Mrs. Turner's entire life. She had grown up during the Depression, and her father died while she was still a girl. So her family didn't have much, but they were a close-knit group in a home full of laughter and music.

She learned generosity and respect for other people at an early age. She'd spend Sundays at her grandmother's house, which was near the railroad tracks. A passing hobo once told Mrs. Turner's grandmother about secret markings hobos used. Some homes were marked as places where hobos would be shooed away or even shot at. Mrs. Turner's family home was marked as a place where a hungry person would be treated well and would be welcome to share whatever food the family had.

Although she grew up poor, Mrs. Turner felt deprived of only one thing: a college education. It just wasn't within the family's means.

When World War II broke out, Mrs. Turner headed to Washington, D.C., to find work. She served her country working as a secretary for a noted cryptologist and reveled in the culture and history of the nation's capital.

She met her husband one day on her lunch break. He was in the Army and on his way to Asia, so he courted her by mail for 2 1/2 years. They married three weeks after the war ended and moved to Davis Islands. James "Jake" Turner went to work for his father's company, Tampa Armature Works. The newlyweds settled on Davis Islands and lived there the rest of their lives.

While her children were in elementary school, Mrs. Turner enrolled at the University of Tampa and earned a history degree. It took her nine years.

"She graduated just before I did," Nancy Turner said. "But she got better grades."

Even graduation didn't quench her thirst for knowledge. She took Spanish classes for 50 years and made a few failed attempts at studying music. She loved music, her daughter said, but had no aptitude for it. She tried to learn to play the accordion while pregnant but soon realized she couldn't push the bellows around her bulging belly.

She developed a love for opera through phonograph records. When she took a class to learn more about it, however, the instructor pointed out that she had been playing the records at the wrong speed.

Friends and family marveled at Mrs. Turner's energy and her love of life.

"It is hard to see how she ever thought she could improve on the person, so close to perfection, that she was," her daughter said.

Besides her daughter, Mrs. Turner is survived by her son James "Bubba" Turner III and two grandchildren.

Marty Clear writes life stores about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at

Davis Islands resident Martha Holden Turner dies at 89 02/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 10, 2011 3:30am]
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