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Texas House Speakers Oral History Project -
James A. "Jimmy" Turman
JAMES A. "JIMMY" TURMAN
James Turman (official portrait). Carrie Frnka Estate Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission; #2002/130-.
The 57th Legislature's regular session, January 10 to May 29, 1961; the 57th Legislature's first called session, July 10 to August 8, 1961; the 57th Legislature's second called session, August 10 to August 14, 1961; and the 57th Legislature's third called session, January 3 to February 1, 1962.
Born November 29, 1927, in the small East Texas town of Leonard in Fannin County, James A. "Jimmy" Turman grew up in Gober before his appointment as teacher and principal at the Wolfe City Elementary/Junior High School at the age of 19. He became a junior high principal in Paris at 24. Turman did this while earning a master's degree at East Texas State Teacher's College. Turman's career as an educator was interrupted by a stint in the Navy at the time of the Korean War. Returning home, he won election as a state representative from Gober in 1954.
While serving as representative, Turman in 1957 earned a doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin in educational administration and psychology. As a legislator, he led the fight to improve funding for state mental hospitals and sought higher pay for teachers.
He was elected speaker in 1961, the first speaker ever to hold a doctoral degree. During his speakership, the House Chamber was modernized, with the installation of air conditioning. His term as speaker marked the first time many rank-and-file members received private offices in the crowded Capitol. That session also saw the passage of the state's first general sales tax, approved in the House over Turman's objections. Turman successfully backed a law establishing a State Employees Classification System and guided through the House the "University of Houston" bill that provided state support for that institution through senior and graduate level classes.
Turman led four opponents in the 1962 primary for lieutenant governor, but narrowly lost in the runoff to a future governor, Preston Smith. Turman moved on the following year to become associate commissioner in the United States Office of Education, later serving on the Education Commission of the United States under President Lyndon Johnson and as director of the President's National Advisory Council on Extension and Continuing Education under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Dr. Turman then founded two national education management consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia before moving back to Texas.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, after a large migration of Vietnamese and Cambodians arrived in Texas as war refugees, Dr. Turman became the Department of Health and Human Services regional director of Refugee Resettlement in Dallas. He then returned to state government, working as a research analyst for the state comptroller's office. He retired from public service in 1990 and organized Chaparral Mining Corporation, where he was chief executive officer and the first chair of the board. He currently resides in Austin with his wife Joanie.
– Interviewed by Dr. Michael Phillips