A distinguished scholar, lover of the outdoors, family man and real gentleman, Ralph Turner died peacefully in his sleep on April 5, at age 94, surrounded by family at his home in the Pacific Palisades.
Ralph was born in Effingham, Illinois, two months after his English parents arrived in the United States. The family settled in Pasadena and it was here, in the San Gabriel Mountains, that a young Eagle Scout became a lifelong hiker and camper.
He attended Pasadena Junior College and majored in sociology at the University of Southern California, where he met his wife, Christine. He attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin until 1942, when he enlisted in the Navy. He married Christine just before leaving for the Pacific on the USS Lexington aircraft carrier. After the war, with support from the GI Bill, he completed a PhD in sociology at the University of Chicago, and in 1948 he accepted a faculty position at UCLA.
He had an illustrious 42-year career in sociology at UCLA. His academic accomplishments were of the highest order, with contributions in collective behavior, the family, social movements and role theory. He rejected dogma, considered questions thoroughly and with respect for the work of other scholars, offered thoughtful, innovative perspectives. A devoted teacher, mentor and highly regarded researcher, he was elected president of the American Sociological Association in 1968. Later, as president of the UC Faculty Senate, he served on the Board of Regents of the University of California. He was an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Science.
Although a consummate professional, retirement at age 70 came easily to Ralph. He loved to travel and took many trips with Christine and later with his daughter, Raven. He belonged to the 100 Peaks Section of the Sierra Club and hiked up Half Dome in Yosemite many times, including a last ascent at age 75. He continued to hike right up until the end, including a daily loop around the Will Rogers ranch house lawn – for the last time just three weeks before his death.
He was a man of deep faith, especially moved by music. He was an avid supporter of the organ and music program of the Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church, where he served as an elder and was a member for over 50 years.
Throughout his long rich life, family remained foremost. Ralph and Christine celebrated their 50th anniversary with a week at Yosemite, surrounded by their children, grandchildren and other family members. After losing his beloved Christine in 2001, he visited often with his children Lowell and Raven; daughter-in-law Kate; and grandchildren Forest, Eric and Jennifer. Slowed in recent years by a faulty heart valve, he accepted his narrowing horizons with dignity and grace. Two loving caregivers, Geri Logan and Mary Rhodes, gave him the nurture he needed to remain in his home in his final years.
A Memorial Service in celebration of the life of Ralph Turner will be held at the Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church on June 7 at 1 p.m. Donations in his memory may be made to the PPPC Music and Organ Fund, the UCLA Foundation Next Generation of Sociology Leaders Fund (c/o Peter Evans, 1309 Murphy Hall, Box 951413, LA, CA 90095), or for a commemorative bench at Will Rogers State Park (checks to “Ralph Turner Commemorative Bench,” c/o Bruce Brough, 16597 Via Floresta, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272).