U.S. District Court Judge James C. Turk '49 dies at age 91

Judge James C. Turk, second from the right, with Dr. Todd Peppers, far left, brother Maynard Turk, second from left, and Morgan Scott, far right, at the Turk Pre-Law Program ceremony in 2010.

Judge James C. Turk, second from the right, with Dr. Todd Peppers, far left, brother Maynard Turk, second from left, and Morgan Scott, far right, at the Turk Pre-Law Program ceremony in 2010.

The Roanoke College pre-law program was named for Turk and his brother Maynard '49 in 2010.


James C. Turk '49, who served for more than 40 years as a U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Virginia, died at his Radford home Sunday. He was 91.

Turk was appointed to the federal bench by President Richard M. Nixon in 1972, serving as chief judge from 1973 to 1993 and assuming senior status in 2002. Even then, he continued to hear cases frequently.

"He put a compassionate face on the U.S. District Court," said Morgan Scott, a teaching associate in the Department of Public Affairs at Roanoke College. As an assistant U.S. attorney and U.S. District Court clerk in Roanoke, Scott worked with Turk as both an attorney and as someone who managed the business of the court.

"He was a thoughtful leader," Scott said. "Despite the fact that he had a disarming sense of humor, he was a very brilliant person who heard many, many important cases."

Before his appointment to the federal bench, Turk practiced law with the Radford firm of Dalton, Poff & Turk, and served as a state senator and Senate minority leader.

In 2010, Roanoke College's pre-law program was named in honor of Turk and his brother, S. Maynard Turk '49, retired vice president and general counsel of Hercules, Inc. In naming the program - which offers law-related courses and pre-law advising in addition to courses in the academic major - after the brothers, the College honored two of its most distinguished graduates. Both men served in the U.S. Army before attending Roanoke, where they joined the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. They majored in economics and went on to attend Washington and Lee University School of Law.

Dr. Todd C. Peppers, Turk Pre-Law Program coordinator, described Judge Turk as one of the most successful lawyers and jurists to graduate from Roanoke College.

"His judicial reputation for justice, compassion, and fairness was legendary and it was because of that reputation that we decided to name the Roanoke College pre-law program in honor of the Judge and his brother, Maynard Turk," Peppers said. "Once we created the Turk Pre-Law Program, the judge enthusiastically supported the program in a variety of ways - from taking undergraduate students as interns to attending our speaker series."

Turk's sons followed their father in the legal profession. James C. Turk Jr. '79, is a Radford-based defense attorney. Robert M.D. Turk serves as a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge.

Turk regarded people who worked in the court system as family and cared about people who came before him in court, Scott said. He made a practice of coming down from the bench to shake hands with defendants after their cases concluded.

"He was a good model of grace and decorum," Scott said. "It didn't mean he didn't have opinion or that things didn't disturb him. But he always seemed to reach the calm."

Funeral services will be held Friday, July 11 at Radford's First Baptist Church. The Turk family will receive friends from noon to 3 p.m. at the church. The funeral service will follow at 3 p.m.

To read and view media coverage about Judge James C. Turk, click here, here and here.