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In The News

November, 1998


By Deborah Evans Price 

AFTER BEING NAMED Miss Missouri, she won the 1990 Miss America pageant, earned her degree as a doctor of veterinary medicine, and now works in television as co-host of "Show Me St. Louis." Beauty queen, animal doctor, TV personality -these are just a few of the hats Debbye Turner wears. Ask her to describe herself, and the answer she enthusiastically gives is "graced and redeemed."

Turner is a spirit-filled woman who greatly appreciates gifts from God, and her gratitude frequently spills over in conversation. She credits much of her spiritual outlook to her late mother, a single parent who raised two daughters in Jonesboro, Ark. Turner was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, during her father's tenure with the Army, and moved six times during her first five years. She was only 6 when her parents divorced. 

My father traveled around the world finishing his military career, and we remained in Jonesboro," Turner explains. " A single parent household is all I ever really knew." 

Though times were not always easy, Turner says one parent raising children doesn't automatically equal a dysfunctional family. "I certainly don't think a single parent household is the best situation, " she says. "There should be two loving parents -a mother and a father –but in some homes that's not possible. Our mother knew the Lord. She loved Him and lived her life according to biblical guidelines and faith. He gave her grace, and she was able to be mother and father to us. It wasn't easy, but she really was able to fill that gap by the grace of God. She raised us in the fear and admonition of the Lord. She taught us not just that He existed, but that He loved us and was intimately concerned with every area of our lives. 

"She would pull the Word out," Turner continues. "She would find a passage that was relevant to a particular situation. We would read it, apply it to our lives, and pray. The cool thing is God always performed. He always provided for the need. Miracles were a regular part of my experience growing up." 

One of the most trying times in Turner's life came four years ago when her mother died. "She was my best friend, my prayer partner, my role model, my spiritual covering. It was tough to lose her," Turner admits. "I realized recently that I haven't finished properly grieving. It took a long time to get over the active pain of not having her in my life. Emotionally, it was very tough. I was my mother's little girl and glad to be. I never made a decision without her input. Anytime I had a crisis in my life, I went to her first, and we prayed about it. When she died, I realized how dependent I was on her, which, in some ways, was probably not the best thing for me as an adult. I would go to her before I went to God. She would always say, 'Let's pray,' and re-direct my focus. But as a 28-year-old lifelong Christian, I needed to go to God first, and I didn't even realize I wasn't. So, in her absence, I've grown up and matured in a lot of wonderful ways that might not have happened had she been here."

Even while grieving her mother's death, Turner says she also feels a special joy. "I have a joy and excitement for her because I know she's rejoicing with the angels, and she's seen the face of God, which is what she lived her whole life for, " Turner says. "She's claimed the prize Paul said we should press toward. "

Family is important to Turner, and even though her parents were divorced when she was young, she has always been close to her father. She praises both parents for maintaining a friendly, supportive relationship after the divorce. "They were able to build a post-divorce friendship that allowed my sister and I to be close to both of them," says Turner. Her sister is now married to a pastor in Houston and has an infant son, Turner Caldwell, who provides Debbye the opportunity to be an enthusiastically doting aunt.

Though her family had an abundance of love, financial resources were not always in ample supply. When Turner decided to become a veterinarian, she used pageants to finance her education. She entered her first competition as a junior in high school. "It was a little pageant called the Jonesboro High School Valentine Sweetheart pageant," recalls Turner. "I mainly entered because each service organization in the school was required to have a representative in the pageant. I was very involved in FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), so I got roped into representing them."

To her surprise, she won. " As it turned out, one of the judges directed a local preliminary in the Miss America pageant," she says. "This [judge] asked me to be in the Miss Jonesboro pageant. I wasn't the pageant type. Growing up, I wasn't at all prissy or frilly. So I wasn't interested in doing other pageants until she said that beauty pageants were the largest source of scholarships for women in the world. I was growing up in a single parent, lower middle class, African-American home. My family couldn't pay for the education I wanted. I saw it as a way to reach my goals. That's how I got started. It took seven tries in 11 years but I finally made it to the Miss America pageant. " 

When she advanced to the Miss Arkansas pageant, she was in the top 10 the first year. In both the second and third years she entered the pageant, she was first runner-up. "By this time I was in veterinary school at the University of Missouri," she says. "The third failed try at Miss Arkansas was devastating, " she says. "I thought I was going to win. Everybody thought I was going to win because I was the returning first runner-up --there was no place for me to go but up. When I didn't win, my mother came up on stage with all my friends. My friends looked like they were coming to view the dead. They had these long expressions on their faces. But my mother had her usual big, bright smile and whispered in my ear, 'There's always Missouri,' because I was a student in the state of Missouri, making me eligible for their pageant system."

Turner won Miss Missouri her first time out, and during September of her senior year in vet school, she was crowned Miss America. "I do a lot of motivational speaking now, and I tell people I didn't win Miss America because I was the prettiest or most talented girl there," she says. "I believe it was God's design for my life. So He gave me the favor and the grace that I needed. That's why I won." 

Turner values her pageant experiences and refutes the notion that pageants are cutthroat competitions with behind-the-scenes cat fighting. “I believe the Lord blesses the Miss America pageant, because I have met more Christian women in the Miss America system than in any other extracurricular activity," she says. " Many of the recent Miss Americas are not only Christians but publicly professing Christians. In my year, a number of contestants were believers, and we'd get together and pray before competitions. Thankfully, pageants are quite the contrary of popular perception; there are a lot of Christian women in there." 

After her reign as Miss America and her graduation from vet school. Turner's first job was as a spokesperson for Ralston Purina. "They recruited me for launching a public education program," she says. ".They asked me about doing a media tour. If there was one thing 1 knew how to do, it was a media tour -I had just spent a whole year doing that very thing. And I had decided to use the Miss America notoriety in a positive way. I have three passions -my faith, children, and animals. I wanted to do as much as I could in those areas so the opportunity with Ralston Purina was perfect because it used my veterinary training and the recognition I had gained in a positive way. Plus, it allowed me to continue the motivational speaking I had started during my year as Miss America. " Turner worked for Ralston Purina for two years. Then, after successfully launching their new program, she decided to go into speaking full-time. 

During the ensuing three years of speaking engagements, she also did a pet news segment in St. Louis called " News 4: Your Pet with Dr. Debbye Turner." That led to an opportunity to work with a show on PBS called "The Gentle Doctor," which Turner now hosts. 

Turner is also co-host of "Show Me St. Louis," a local television magazine show. She was offered the job after the general manager of the St. Louis NBC affiliate station saw a pilot she had done for another show and called her. "I was tired of traveling to make a buck," she says. " A week before I got the call, I said kind of casually to God that I was ready to stop traveling. Within a week I got that phone call." She soon found herself greeting St. Louis residents daily on the live 30- minute program. 

Though she works full-time at the station, Turner still travels as a motivational speaker. When asked how she keeps her focus tight and her energy level high, she shares some advice from a family friend, the Sparrow recording artist Carman. "I asked Carman, 'How do you do it?' He said, 'I allot a certain number of Sundays when I can be away, but every other Sunday I come back to my home church service.' So that's what I always try to do, and it makes a big difference. I realize even if I'm out ministering at a church service, I'm giving. I'm pouring out. There's rarely an opportunity for me to receive and be recharged unless I'm at my home church." 

The nurturing she gets from her church is important to Turner. So she is taking time daily to seek God's will and direction. "I'm a plan person. I live by lists and plans," she says, "which is good to an extent, but we're supposed to live by faith. So I'm always saying 'Lord, I am nothing. I can do nothing without you. I lean not on my own understanding, but on yours because your thoughts are higher than mine and your ways are higher than mine,' I have to remind myself of those Scriptures and of my reliance on the Lord to be used for good. "

Turner's drive comes from the encouragement she received from her parents and her faith. "I've always been taught that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," she says. "Impossibility has never been a paradigm I've lived in. I know that where He has a purpose, He has a plan and will provide the way." 

Turner manages to exude confidence, determination, and enthusiasm without a trace of self-absorption. When asked how she's remained humble in a glitzy profession, she laughs. "I know where I came from, and I know who I am. I’m not impressed with myself. I know what I look like when I wake up in the morning, and I know how I struggle with my inadequacies. I'm a regular person."

She shares many of the same dreams and goals as other young women, including the desire to marry and raise a family. However, she admits her lifestyle makes it difficult to meet people, much less begin relationships. "In my Christmas letter last year I wrote. 'No boyfriend, no husband, no time."' Turner says with a laugh. 

"But, seriously, I believe God has a perfect pick for all of us," she says. " And I also believe that he's supposed to come and find me. The Bible says, 'He who finds a wife finds a good thing.' So he should be looking for me. I don't need to look for him. I live my life, I do what God has called me to do, and I have lots of friends. I'm not lacking social outlets and recreation. I have lots of great friends. I'm not lonely, and I know my fulfillment doesn't come from another human being, including a man. So whenever the Lord sees fit to bring a husband along, that will be fabulous. Until then, I'm having a wonderful time. I can go where I want to go, spend my money the way I want to spend it, and I don't have to ask anybody but the Lord. That really is a privilege. Singleness has a lot of freedoms you simply don't get in marriage.

"I don't believe God wastes our time. If He has us in a place, He has us there for a reason. If we are always longing for that next step in life, then we aren't fulfilling His purpose in the present part of life." 

Until her husband finds her, Turner will be content. She lives in St. Louis with her 88-year-old grandmother and two cats -Snickers, a 12-year-old Burmese mix she raised in her dorm room at vet school, and her mother's cat, Blessed, an 11-year-old Siamese. 

Debbye Turner's life is good, and that's a blessing she doesn't take for granted. " Life is precious and fragile, " she says. "We assume that tomorrow is our right, but really it's a blessing and a miracle. We get so caught up in our own plans and responsibilities that we forget to be overwhelmingly grateful for each day we're given."

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