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The Passing of Dr. Willie Turner, Professor and Chairman Emeritus of Microbiology

Dr. Turner served as Chairman of the Department of Microbiology from 1971-1986 and continued to serve as a full professor until his health began to fail in recent years. He retired from the University last year after 42 years of service as a biomedical science educator and scholar.

Dr. Turner was an outstanding Research Virologist at the National Cancer Institute, NIH from 1961-1971 before coming to Howard as Professor and Chairman of the Microbiology Department, which granted only Master’s degrees at that time. He was recruited to the Howard University College of Medicine in 1971 with a charge and a passion to attract a nucleus of highly qualified minority research scientists, with Ph.D. degrees in the sub-disciplines of microbiology, to build a first class, Ph.D. degree program. Dr. Willie Turner was the motivating force for creating the Ph. D. program in microbiology at Howard University in 1977. He recruited 12 minority faculty and insisted that all of them do sabbatical research after promotion. He established active academic programs in virology, pathogenic microbiology, immunology, cell biology and parasitology within the department. Under his leadership and direction, the Department of Microbiology produced 21 graduates, thereby substantially increasing the pool of minority scientists with Ph.D. degrees in microbiology.

Dr. Turner was the Research Advisor to 8 Ph. D. recipients and Research Mentor to another 20 Masters and Ph. D. students. He trained 3 post-doc Fellows and served on more than 15 thesis and 28 dissertation committees. His trainees are still active in government (NIAID, US Patent Office, FDA, and DC Department of Public Health) and federal and private research labs as well as in academia in the United States and abroad (Nigeria, Japan, Jamaica and Ghana). In 2005, Dr. Turner was honored by the American Society for Microbiology as the recipient of the William A. Hinton Research Training Award, which honors laureates for outstanding contributions toward fostering the research training of underrepresented minorities in microbiology.

Over his career, Dr. Turner also taught the science of microbiology to thousands of medical and other HU health sciences students. He amazed students with his near photographic memory of numerous facts and figures, often without notes, in his legendary lectures in virology. Other institutions benefitted from Dr. Turner’s expertise and knowledge of Virology and Microbiology. He presented seminars and lectures at the Washington Technical Institute, Bowie State University and Meharry Medical College. In addition to serving on the College of Medicine’s APT committee for many years, he was a member of the National Advisory Council-AIDS Consortium of Morehouse Medical College and served on several NIH, NSF and Howard Hughes Study Sections and Advisory Committees.