By Amanda Johnson
Stepping into Teresa Turner’s office on the second floor of the Prentice Gautt Academic Center at the University of Oklahoma, an array of Sooner memorabilia, old newspaper clippings of her and family member’s athletic achievements and several commemorable plaques fill the place where student-athletes come knocking.
“She’s a beam of sunshine,” said Roy Williams, former OU All-American safety, five-time NFL Pro Bowler and Sooner legend known as “Superman.” “Every time I see Teresa she has a smile on her face — she’s happy-go-lucky, and it’s contagious.”
Williams walked into Teresa Turner’s office for the first time in 1998. She was his adviser, helping him navigate the academic and athletic challenges he faced over his three years at OU before entering the NFL Draft.
But for Teresa Turner, helping guide student-athletes through their time at OU is more than a job description — it is a passion fueled by the desire to see them succeed, both in the present and future.
“She will give anyone the shirt off her back,” Williams said. “She wants everybody to be successful in life.”
Beyond assisting in the success of student-athletes in the classroom and on the field, Teresa Turner wants them to know her door is always open.
“Anytime (a student-athlete) needs something, she is there — they can come in and talk to her about anything,” said Ann Deal, an administrative assistant in OU’s Prentice Gautt Academic Center who has worked with Teresa Turner since 1994. “She is a wealth of knowledge and has wonderful advice — she is always willing to help any way she can.”
‘One of the first’
Teresa Turner has always had an innate desire to help others. Growing up as the second youngest of six siblings, she would often use this gift to find ways to complete tasks that seemed impossible.
“I was in Girl Scouts, and she helped me sell 100 boxes of cookies so I could go to camp,” said Bernice Ray, Teresa Turner’s youngest sibling. “I’d have never accomplished that if it wasn’t for her.”
Beyond the joy Teresa Turner receives helping others, she relishes the challenge it entails.
“She likes challenges, whether it’s something super difficult or whether it’s helping somebody or something very far-fetched, like, ‘Hey, I need this green umbrella that has one black spot on it,’” said Chelsea Turner, Teresa Turner’s youngest daughter. “I mean, she is going to find a way to find that somewhere.”
In 1976, Teresa Turner faced a difficult challenge moving from South Carolina to Norman, Oklahoma, her junior year of high school when her brother, former OU basketball star Clifford Ray, bought her parents a house after making it to the NBA. But despite the transition, she excelled on the basketball court at Norman High School, while also balancing academics and a full-time job at Dunkin’ Donuts.
Teresa Turner followed her brother’s footsteps to play basketball at OU in 1978 but forged her own path — becoming one of the first two women to earn an athletic scholarship at OU.
Chelsea Turner said this historic achievement was something she was always very proud her mom was a part of, as she became a trailblazer for so many others.
“Being one of the first — that’s huge,” Chelsea Turner said. “It helps you think about not taking things for granted and realize what steps have been taken to be where we are now.”
Today, the term “Sooner family” holds a more extensive meaning to Teresa Turner than most.
Teresa Turner is married to former Sooner nose tackle Richard Turner, who went on to play in the NFL for four years, and they have three children. Her son received his bachelor’s and master’s degree from OU, while her two daughters played college basketball at other schools, eventually coming to OU for their master’s degrees.
But beyond her family’s athletic and academic success was a foundation of hard work.
“My family has not just an athletic background, but just a good work ethic that has been taught to us throughout the years,” Teresa Turner said.
Teresa Turner credits not only the work ethic instilled in her from an early age by her parents as a driving factor in the success she has had both as a student-athlete and in her career, but the impact OU has made on her, and her family’s life, as the years go by.
“OU has always been good to me and my family, and it’s been fun to be a part of it for so many years,” Teresa Turner said. “When you’ve lived in Norman, you’ve always been near it — it’s just kind of a part of you.”
‘Mother Teresa of the University of Oklahoma’
Once Teresa Tuner got to OU, it seems as if she’s never left.
Teresa Turner completed her undergraduate degree in psychology as a student-athlete, and her passion for helping others achieve their goals led her to pursue a career in higher education. After receiving her master’s degree in education and counseling from OU, she began working as an adviser, first in the College of Arts and Sciences, and then in the athletic department beginning in 1990 — helping student-athletes navigate the challenge of balancing academics and athletics.
“I knew that I could connect with our student-athletes because I knew what it took to balance the demand of academic and athletic commitments,” Teresa Tuner said.
Teresa Turner’s experience as a student-athlete and her passion for helping others created the ultimate combination for her sustained success as an adviser for 25 years. But in 2015, her ambitious spirit was ready for a new challenge.
In her role as the director of the student-athlete experience, Teresa Turner now assists in overcoming many of the common challenges student-athletes face at OU, as well as preparing them for life after athletics. Skills such as resume building and interview techniques are taught regularly, emphasizing the importance of planning for the future.
But most of all, Teresa Turner’s primary goal in her new role at OU is to help student-athletes always feel connected to the Sooner family.
“We want our student-athletes to feel like when they leave here they are always a part of the Sooner family and that they can always come back,” Teresa Turner said.
In 2017, Williams decided it was time to come back and finish his degree.
Williams said it was Teresa Turner who advised him for the second time, helping him enroll in the classes he needed and being there every step of the way of his 15-year journey to complete his degree.
Although her role has changed, Williams finds Teresa Turner remains the same.
“She hasn’t changed one bit,” Williams said. “She’s always loved the university, loved student-athletes and loved people — she is the Mother Teresa of the University of Oklahoma.”