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July 11, 2002

FORMER BRIDWELL LIBRARY DIRECTOR DECHERD TURNER DIES AT 79

DALLAS (SMU) -- Decherd H. Turner Jr., founding director of Bridwell Library at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, died of a stroke July 7 in Austin at the age of 79.

Born in Pike County, Mo., Turner earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri in 1943, graduating Phi Beta Kappa. He studied theology at Vanderbilt University School of Religion, earning a second bachelor’s degree, and became an ordained Presbyterian minister.

While attending divinity school, he took a job in a library to support his family. The experience changed his vocation and his life, as he channeled his love of books into a long and remarkable career as a librarian and collector. Turner also pursued graduate studies in the library school at George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville, Tenn. Turner served as director of the Bridwell Library for 30 years, from 1950 to 1980, and later served as director of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin until his retirement in 1988.

“He was the greatest librarian of the 20th century; a man of great learning and incredible accomplishments,” said current Bridwell Library Director Valerie R. Hotchkiss.

Turner brought both bibliographic fame and notoriety to Texas and is credited as chief architect of the extraordinary collections at SMU’s Bridwell Library, where he assembled what is now the largest collection of 15th-century books in the Southwest. He acquired the elusive Triple Crown of fine press printing, which includes the Kelmscott Chaucer, the Doves Press Bible and the Ashendene Dante, all on vellum. Turner was legendary for his ability to find and finance remarkable acquisitions ranging from a significant fragment of the Gutenberg Bible to the complete archives of the Ashendene Press.

At The University of Texas at Austin, Turner secured the Uzielli Collection of Aldines for the library, was instrumental in the acquisition of the illustrious Pforzheimer collection and the MGM Gone With the Wind archives, among other bibliographic treasures.

“He was a great bookman,” said his son, David. “He was respected and loved -- sometimes envied -- but certainly known to everyone in the book world.”

Turner is survived by his wife and two grown children. Memorial gifts may be made to Bridwell Library, PO Box 750476, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX 75275.


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