I opened an email earlier this week from Polly Campbell and the first thing she said was, “I just learned of Jim’s passing — he was one of the greatest people I have ever known.”
It had not occurred to me that Polly knew Judge James Turk who passed away Sunday at the age of 91. Then I wondered why it would surprise me since Polly, who was a volunteer with the Republican Party of Virginia for more than 50 years and served 44 of those years as secretary of RPV’s State Central Committee, knew many political giants. Judge Turk was just one of them.
And then Polly added, “His one wish was to become a judge; John Dalton’s wish was to become a Governor — they both met their goals.”
The late John Dalton and Jim Turk were law partners in Radford along with Richard Poff. The Judge served more than 40 years on the federal bench.
They were all Republican before Republican was cool, back in the days when Democrats ran the state and Republicans got the table scraps. Polly was in the mix of it all, this pint-sized walking encyclopedia of Virginia Republican history, and so she shared more about the Judge:
“Jim was active in the Party in those days and did his stint with the Party organization — he had skin in the game.”
And that’s when she added that his one wish was to become a judge. President Richard Nixon made that dream come true … well, President Nixon, and a lot of hard work from Judge Turk.
He served in the State Senate for 13 years, leaving in 1972 to take the federal judgeship. For someone who didn’t stray too far from home, his reach extended across the nation. He grew up in Roanoke County, served in the Army during World War II, returned to Virginia to attend Roanoke College on the GI Bill, and earned his law degree from Washington & Lee University School of Law where he graduated second in his class.
He presided over a number of high-profile cases throughout the years including the 1981 libel case the Rev. Jerry Falwell filed against Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt. (See James Turk, Virginia judge who ruled on prison porn and sex change cases, dies at 91.)
Staunton City Councilwoman Andrea Oakes’ father, Ronald Williams, is a well-known attorney in Danville and former mayor who was instrumental in the civil rights movement of that city. Now 78, he was a young politico in the 1960s when his friends Jim Turk and John Dalton traveled to Danville to help start the Republican Party in that part of the Commonwealth. Andrea remembers hearing the stories about it while growing up as the youngest of five children in a family that was committed to public service (see Stacey Moreau appointed Danville Circuit Court judge … sister of Staunton Councilwoman Andrea Oakes). Her dad talked about that and more on Wednesday as he reminiscenced about Jim Turk, someone he admired and considered a dear friend.
Judge Turk was indeed a giant in Virginia political and legal circles, one of a dying breed of moderate Republicans who helped pull the Old Dominion from under Democratic dominance to build the GOP into a viable, winning party. He will be laid to rest Friday in Radford.
Update: Steve Minor writes at his SW Virginia law blog about his personal experience representing a client in front of Judge Turk (see On the late Judge Turk).