Last June, I received a somewhat cryptic e-mail from Beauty Turner, the former assistant editor at the Residents’ Journal, whom I had the pleasure of crossing paths with several times over the years. I wrote her back asking if she wanted me to contact her about anything specific.
She wrote back: “Just an update, love. That’s all, love. Love, Beauty.”
That was three “loves” out of nine words.
I only knew Beauty Turner as a media colleague whom I occasionally was fortunate to spend time with, but I knew her enough to know how typical that was. Beauty was a force of nature.
On Thursday, her old boss at the Journal, Ethan Michaeli, announced that Beauty, who had suffered an aneurysm on Monday night and had fallen into a coma, had died.
“Beauty was a special person who cared deeply for her community and for anyone who needed help,” Michaeli wrote in an e-mail alert. “She was truly a ‘voice for the voiceless’ as well as ‘a writer and a fighter’.”
That’s how Beauty often described herself – and her job description.
When she broke off from RJ and founded Beauty’s Ghetto Bus Tours, she described her venture this way:
“Beauty's famous Ghetto Bus Tours is designed to give a voice to the voiceless. Much too often . . . you hear from Professors, Sociologists, Academics, city officials, politicians and never hear from the ones that it is affecting the most which is the residents from public housing. the only valid voices in the plan!”
And she didn’t fail to remind everyone about the slew of media coverage – and “international fame” - her bus tours garnered.
Beauty had a personality as big as her heart.
Beauty lived in the Robert Taylor Homes for 16 years, worked at Residents’ Journal as Assistant Editor, wrote columns for the Hyde Park Herald, and assisted Columbia University sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh with his research. She was the winner of a Studs Terkel Award from the Community Media Workshop as well as several other local and national commendations. And she was once featured on the front page of the Wall Street Journalreported on her role as journalist-activist burrowing into the CHA’s Plan for Transformation; it was often Beauty who filled in other reporters about the reality that the mayor’s office preferred not to tell. And she did so with a warm smile and brimming passion other reporters seemed to have lost - or never had.
Oh, and as the Wall Street Journal reported, “Everybody knows Beauty.”
“Beauty never stopped working on her dreams, and she never stop encouraging me to follow my dreams, “ Beauty’s niece wrote on the listserv for the Chicago chapter of the Association for Women Journalists. “I know she touched a lot of you in the media world and all across the nation. She was fabulous.”
"Chicago lost a giant tonight,” Chris Geovanis wrote on Chicago IndyMedia. “Her's was the voice you'd catch on the other end of the phone line late at night, saying 'They did it again. I need you.' She had a huge heart, almost boundless tenderness and an abiding sense of compassion that was simply indomitable."
“Curtis Lawrence, a professor of journalism at Columbia College and former Chicago Sun-Times reporter who wrote about public housing, compared Ms. Turner to the civil rights leader Ida B. Wells,” the Tribunereports.
"He recalled a news conference in which CHA officials were trumpeting the Plan for Transformation, a controversial, $1.6 billion effort to remake public housing.
"'Officials at the CHA tried to ignore her, and she just demanded to be heard,' Lawrence said.
"He said much of Ms. Turner's work was in giving other reporters a real understanding of public housing.
"'Like so many reporters, she was my bridge to Robert Taylor,' he said. 'She was behind a lot of stories that no one really knew about'."
In May, I wrote about a panel on human rights I had moderated that included Beauty on the panel. I described her as "a joy and an inspiration . . . [who] has a world of insight to spill about how reporters for the dailies do - or don't do - their jobs. She had the vision, instincts, and street smarts to see where the CHA was heading, producing the questions that her daily competitors should have been asking."
Beauty, you will be missed, love.