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1920 Ralph 2021

Ralph Donald Turlington

October 5, 1920 — May 12, 2021

Ralph Turlington was born October 5, 1920, in Gainesville, Florida, the fifth of six surviving children of John and May B. Turlington. He was in the first class of the newly established P. K. Yonge Laboratory School, elected the Senior Class President, and graduating in 1938. In 2009 he was elected to the P. K. Yonge Hall of Fame for his post-graduate accomplishments and named as one of the school’s most distinguished graduates.

Ralph attended the University of Florida from 1938 to 1942. He achieved a 4.0 grade point average, was elected to the Student Council and as the Business Manager of the Florida Alligator, the U of F student newspaper. He was elected to Florida Blue Key, the University’s prestigious leadership honorary fraternity and steppingstone to Florida politics. He then went to Harvard to get his master’s degree in Business Administration, graduating in 1943. Shortly thereafter he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the U. S. Army and sent to Europe. While there he rose to the rank of captain in command of a supply company in Northern France, supporting Gen. Patton’s Third Army during the Battle of the Bulge. After the war ended Ralph returned to the United States and met Ann Gellerstedt of Atlanta, Georgia. They were married October 2, 1946.

Following his discharge from the Army, Ralph returned to Gainesville with Ann and in 1947 he joined the U of F faculty. In 1949 he became an agent for the State Farm Insurance Company, a business that he operated successfully in Gainesville for the next 25 years. In 1950 he decided to run for the Florida Legislature, representing Gainesville and Alachua County, and was elected to public office for the first time. He was re-elected to the legislature eleven more times between 1950 and 1973, voting on more bills than any other legislator in the history of the State. Ralph was honored by his legislative colleagues who voted him the Most Valuable Member overall, the Most Valuable in Committee and Most Effective in Debate. In addition, Ralph was elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, serving in that role from 1966-1968. His legislative accomplishments included getting the initial funding to establish, construct and staff the Medical Center at the University of Florida, now one of the largest and most prestigious medical schools in the United States. He also wrote the laws establishing the current pension system for State Employees, Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law, the Florida Consumer Protection Agency, and the legislation lowering the voting age to 18. Ralph also served on the 1965 Constitutional Revision Commission. In 1972, as chairman of the House Finance and Taxation Committee, he introduced the Constitutional amendment, and led the successful campaign to enact the State’s first corporate income tax.

In 1973 Ralph ended his 24-year tenure in the Florida Legislature when Governor Ruben Askew appointed him Commissioner of Education, the post overseeing public schools and colleges throughout the State and he became a member of the Florida Cabinet. Ralph ran state-wide for Education Commissioner in 1974 in a landslide. He was re-elected 1978 and again in 1982. He retired in 1986. All told, he served the State of Florida for 36 consecutive years as a legislator, House Speaker, Commissioner of Education, and member of the Florida Cabinet, thereby being elected to Constitutional office more times than anyone else in the history of the State.

His final political campaign was organizing and leading the effort to establish a lottery to fund education throughout Florida, traveling and making speeches throughout the State, and convincing the voters in 1986 to pass the lottery legislation. Since then, the Florida Lottery has generated over $40 billion dollars of revenue for Florida schools.

Following his announced retirement as Commissioner of Education, the Florida legislature honored Ralph in two more ways. It enacted legislation naming the 17 story Department of Education headquarters building in Tallahassee as the Ralph D. Turlington Education Building. It also enacted legislation naming the largest classroom building at the University of Florida as Turlington Hall.

Ralph Turlington is survived by his son R. Donald Turlington Jr., his daughter Katherine Wright Turlington, his grandson R. Donald Turlington III and his granddaughter Megan Turlington-Taub.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the charity of your choice.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Ralph Donald Turlington, please visit our flower store.

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