Capt. Blair P. Turner, Ph.D., one of VMI’s longest-serving professors and a beloved figure to more than a generation of cadets and alumni, died April 26, 2021. He was 73.
Born into a Navy family, Turner received his bachelor’s degree from St. Andrews Presbyterian College. Training at the Navy’s Officer Candidate School, Turner received his commission in 1969 and served in Vietnam.
Entering graduate school after his naval service, he pursued graduate studies at the University of Florida. He specialized in Latin America and the military, and during that time, he studied in Argentina as a Fulbright Scholar.
In 1982, Turner came to VMI, joining what was then the Department of History and Politics and beginning a career that spanned 38 years. His courses were an immediate success, and cadets enthusiastically responded to his teaching.
It was not just teaching that Turner excelled in at VMI. In the 1980s, along with his colleague, Bruce Vandervort, and others, Turner convinced the Society of Military History to make the Institute and the George C. Marshall Library the co-publishers of its prestigious publication, The Journal of Military History. Considered to be the English-language journal of record on the topic, it remains at VMI. Turner was a frequent contributor to the publication, and his final column appeared in its April 2021 issue.
He also served as the head of the Department of History from 1990-2004. During that time, he recruited many top-flight faculty members who transformed the department into one with an irrefutable reputation for excellence in teaching, scholarship, publications, and cadet engagement.
“Blair Turner was the life of the history department,” said Col. Houston Johnson V, Ph.D., professor and current head of the Department of History. “His commitment to the VMI community during more than 38 years of service continues to inspire generations of cadets and faculty.”
Turner also made several contributions outside of his department, including one which many alumni will remember as “Turner’s Revenge.” Col. Dennis Foster, Ph.D., the head of the Department of International Studies and Political Science, described it as “the methods requirement for International Studies majors.” He continued, “Blending technical knowledge and real-world applications with a full embrace of the VMI system and ethos, Blair’s course was simultaneously beloved and feared by two generations of IS cadets.”
It wasn’t just the development and teaching of this course that Turner contributed to the new department, according to Foster. “Blair’s contributions were vital to the growth and development of the nascent IS department, which had a full-time faculty of only three when he agreed to teach half-time in IS. From input into the curriculum to job hires and the mentorship of junior faculty, Blair helped to lay the cornerstone of what is today one of VMI’s most successful and relevant courses of study.”
Nor did Turner restrict himself to the classroom. He also served as the faculty advisor and a coach for the VMI rugby club. Joseph M. Irby II ’85, who also served the team as a coach, remembered Turner as “a huge supporter of rugby here at VMI. He was instrumental in arranging [for] the team to play in France twice and once in Argentina, which were amazing additions to the players’ experience on the team and at VMI.
“He was steadfast and committed to the club’s success and its future. He was an influential mentor to players and coaches alike. He was always there with a good word. Sometimes, the player or coach initially didn’t like hearing his needed advice, but, in time, they understood its value. And, anyone who knew Blair will always remember his amazing sense of humor.”
The Institute recognized his excellence in teaching twice, presenting him with its Distinguished Teaching Award in 1989 and 2013. In April 2020, the Board of Visitors also presented him with the Institute’s Meritorious Service Medal.
“Blair Turner played a foundational role in fostering the development of VMI’s academic program,” said Brig. Gen. Robert W. Moreschi, Ph.D., deputy superintendent for academics and dean of the faculty. “From his contributions to the creation of the Department of International Studies to his 15 years as head of the Department of History and membership on the team that brought the prestigious Journal of Military History to VMI, the Institute owes him a debt of gratitude. Blair was fiercely loyal to his faculty and cadets, never shy about sharing his opinion, and passionately devoted to VMI—he will be missed.”
Turrner is survived by his wife of 55 years, Vicki Gay Cover Turner; son, Glen Currie Blair Turner; brother, John Henderson Turner Jr.; and VMI daughter, Erica Ardolino Comparin ’04, and her family. Two infant daughters predeceased him.
Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects
The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.