The Daily Gamecock

Mom of six, “Grammy” to all of USC, gives back to, builds community in all she does

<p>Shirley Turner sits with her family. Turner is graduating with a bachelor's degree from USC in December 2021.</p>
Shirley Turner sits with her family. Turner is graduating with a bachelor's degree from USC in December 2021.

Corporate woman turned diversity scholar. World traveler. Substitute teacher. Mom. Grandmother. University of South Carolina 2021 graduate.

Years ago, Shirley Turner set out on a journey to reach her goal of getting her Ph.D. and writing a book about her life. That’s what brought her to the University of South Carolina, where she decided to major in women and gender studies. She participated in graduation ceremonies in May one month before her 72nd birthday.

“I knew them well,” Turner said of the issues covered in her classes, “because of my own life experiences.” 

She was not only intrigued by the classroom perspective of events she took part in, but she was eager to learn more about the legislative and policy changes happening alongside these events when she was involved in feminist movements.

Before enrolling at USC, Turner traveled the world for her work as an executive business consultant. She was a keynote speaker for efficiency modeling and revenue capture all over the globe and worked with companies such as Disney and Sony before creating her own consulting agency. 

Turner not only climbed but helped build the corporate ladder for women as the first female to hold leadership positions at multiple companies. But, to her, that wasn’t enough. Turner always had a passion for learning about and fighting for inclusion and diversity, which played a large role in her choice of major at USC. 

Between her global travels for work, Turner fought for women’s rights, representing women enduring abuse in the corporate world. She filed a sexual harassment lawsuit, known as the “Blythe-Nelson case,” against an employer in Dallas, Texas. 

“I had to do this, not only for me, but for all of the girls,” Turner said. 

Almost a year after filing suit, the case went to trial in front of a jury, where 21 other women agreed to testify and share their stories of sexual abuse, harassment and assault in the workplace. Blythe-Nelson settled in 2004, and the company ultimately declared bankruptcy while the work culture for women throughout Texas was forever changed. 

“It really gave me courage,” Turner said.

Turner didn’t only fight for inclusion in the United States. 

While in India, she spearheaded an effort by an organization called Suitcase for Scholars, which donated school supplies, books and other items for children around the world without access to basic scholastic tools. 

While working on this project, she decided to do more; the supply drive was so successful that she built a school where she also taught English.  

Not long after her adventures in India, she decided to become a mom, again. She had already raised two children, who were out of the house, but she now had a desire to continue helping children. 

“I’ve got a bunch of angels,” Turner said.

She has six children now, four of them adopted. Her first adopted child — the oldest, named Reece — was three years old when he was adopted from Siberia, Russia, and is now a fourth-year political science student at the University of South Carolina.

“Typically you go to college to get away from your parents," Reece said. "Having my mom on campus is surreal."

While it has been a learning curve for mother and son, the experience has been worth the awkward and potentially embarrassing moments. Reece said he’s taught his mom a lot about where to find things on campus, how to use things such as Blackboard and the best lunch spots, but he’s learned a lot from her, too.

From day one, Turner has been involved in everything she could find time for at USC.

“I wish that I had slowed down and approached college the way my mom has,” Reece said.

Turner has been involved on campus in student organizations, leadership positions and an internship with a local museum.

“When she was elected to our leadership committee  — taking on the role of alumni outreach  — I was not surprised at all. Her attitude and zest was a great addition to the organization,” Kyara Washington, former initiate adviser to the Phi Sigma Pi honors fraternity, said.

Phi Sigma Pi was an organization Turner was extremely involved with.

Even amid the pandemic, she was always eager to participate and engage during activities and Phi Sigma Pi chapter meetings, according to Washington, who oversaw the initiation process of Turner’s class into the chapter. 

Turner continues to work hard and set the example that “everything is achievable because everything is earned in life” for her children, Reece said, but her dedication to leading by example has reached far beyond her immediate family.

Turner has impacted the Carolina community in ways she said she never saw coming, even getting a call from a few scared freshmen from one of her classes who were on a spring break trip gone wrong. 

“They called me instead of their parents,” Turner said.

Even though she already raised six children of her own, she gladly took Gamecocks under her wing and truly became the USC “Grammy” that students didn’t know they needed.

Turner said she has put her plans for the Ph.D. on hold, for now. She’s finishing one last class to officially earn her bachelor’s degree in December. She’s also working as a substitute teacher, inspiring even more children to write their stories while she, literally, continues to write her own, this time in the form of a novel.