Heart of Louisiana: L.C. Turnley

LaSalle Parish coroner L.C. Turnley, Louisiana's most senior politician
LaSalle Parish coroner L.C. Turnley, Louisiana's most senior politician

Jena, La. -- When you drive through the small north Louisiana town of Jena, it has an old-time country look to it.  It's also the home of Louisiana's most senior politician.

At age 85, Dr. L.C. Turnley has been coroner of LaSalle Parish for 52 years.  He was first sworn in the same year that Jimmie Davis became governor.

It was 1960 and Eisenhower was president.  Turnley had only been out of medical school for a few years and had no desire to become coroner when the powerful local sheriff convinced him to run.

"He came to me and said, boy, you going to be coroner next time," Turnley says. "I said you kidding me, I don't want to be coroner."

The young doctor soon discovered that the local sheriff was going to get his way.  "He said I'm registering you as a candidate for coroner.  Well what if I don't want to do it, and he said, you'll do it, and he did, and I said well I'm not going to go out and see people about electing me coroner, I don't care about it. And he said, well I'll do all that, you just practice medicine, I'll take care of that".

Dr. Turnley won that first election, and a total of 14 terms as coroner.

"I don't campaign," Turnley tells us.  "If they like me, they can vote for me, if they don't they can vote me out."

Once, Turnley says he offered to pay some else's fee to run for the job.  Another time, he didn't bother to sign up.   "So the sheriff at that time paid my fee, filled out my papers, signed my name and brought it to me. He says you're in. What could I do then?"

Turnley says his 52 years in office have allowed him to give something back to the community where he was born and raised.

When Turnley graduated from medical school, doctors were making house calls after they left their office for the evening.  He charged five bucks a visit.

The patients still come to the modest office that Turnley has used since the 1960's.

"Ever heard of retirement?" we ask him.

He replies, "Yes, and I reject it all the time."

But Dr. Turnley says his current term as coroner will be his last.  He has no plans to run for re-election next year.  Then again, that's something he's said before.

Since he was first elected coroner in 1959, Dr. Turnley has been re-elected thirteen times without opposition.