Turpen Time

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Turpen Time

By Tim Farley

Call them truisms, axioms or old sayings, but whatever they are Mike Turpen is never at a loss for words.

Turpen, a popular public figure in Oklahoma, has been in the middle of the state’s political and social scenes since he was an assistant district attorney in Muskogee County decades ago. He’s served as the state’s attorney general, unsuccessfully ran for governor, has been a longtime friend to Bill and Hillary Clinton and has been part of a highly successful Sunday morning television news show.

With all of those accomplishments behind him, it wasn’t enough. Now, Turpen has put his life in paperback form with his new book, “Turpen Time: The Wit and Wisdom of Mike Turpen.”

A special ceremony honoring Turpen and his book is scheduled 6 p.m., Friday, August 15 at the Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zudi Drive, in Oklahoma City. The event will benefit Oklahoma City University’s Clara Luper Scholars endowed fund, named in honor of the Oklahoma City civil rights icon.

Exhibiting his folksy, hyper-energy style, Turpen said he hopes the book will provide readers with “infotainment.”

“I believe it informs people about something they didn’t know and also entertains them. If it inspires and uplifts, I would be pleased,” he said. “The reviews from people who have already read the book warm the cockles of my heart.”

The 282-page, 50-chapter book describes in vivid detail many events, thoughts and people in Turpen’s life, some which he admits are “not all that rosy.” He writes extensively about his family, the Clintons and Charles Troy Coleman, the first person executed by lethal injection in Oklahoma. Turpen was the lead prosecutor against Coleman, who was convicted of the heinous murders of John and Roxie Seward in 1979. He spent nearly 11 years on death row before his execution.

The book includes chapters about special friendships, colleagues, legal cases, his father’s alcoholism and in one instance, a dark, sad day that involved the death of his law partner’s son.

In his interview with ionOK.com, Turpen talked about the Coleman case and the impact it had on his life then and now.
“That was the first time I was confronted so vividly with good versus evil,” he said. “I was the guy in the white hat doing the right thing and Charles Troy Coleman was a career criminal and a first-degree murderer.”

It was almost surreal for Turpen as he squared off against Coleman and his defense team each day in court.

“It was me and him, man to man, face to face, toe to toe. When we got the conviction, it was a sense of accomplishment and when he was executed it gave me a sense of relief, a sense of relief that someone so evil was off the face of the Earth,” the longtime prosecutor and private attorney recalled.

Faced with death threats throughout the trial and afterward, Turpen’s life resembled a Stephen King novel by the time the 1990 execution occurred. One particular eerie incident, which Turpen pens in his book, occurred the night of Coleman’s execution.

“The evening Coleman was scheduled to be put to death, I followed the television reports leading up to his expected demise,” Turpen wrote. “But because he was the first one to be executed by lethal injection in the state, something went wrong. Apparently, they didn’t have the method quite figured out, so it didn’t go well. Finally, I went to bed, knowing this killer wasn’t dead yet.”

The following incident has haunted Turpen since that night with no logical explanation why it happened.

“I was suddenly awakened by a noise in the kitchen downstairs, like the roar of a chainsaw. It sounded as though someone was sawing or drilling through my back door,” he wrote. “I had a pistol back then, a .38-caliber. For some reason, though, I decided not to take the gun along. Instead, I grabbed a baseball bat and started down the stairs, with that ominous Rrrrrrrr! Roaring through the house.”

Finally reaching the kitchen, Turpen switched on the light, bat in hand, and saw that the noise was coming from a tipped-over vacuum cleaner. Turpen surmised either the cat or dog tipped it over and it somehow turned itself on. Yet, the odd, sci-fi ending to the story is the vacuum cleaner apparently started up at just about the same time Coleman drew his last breath.

The Clintons

“Turpen Time” includes several references to Turpen’s personal and professional relationships with Bill and Hillary Clinton. On a personal level, Turpen recalled a conversation he had with Bill Clinton, who had called to thank him for helping Hillary during her presidential bid.

“He asked if there was anything he could do for me and I asked if he could call my mom and wish her a happy 80th birthday and he did. She was totally surprised and elated. It was one of the best moments of her life,” Turpen said.

Clinton was a big part of the 1995 memorial service for those killed in the Oklahoma City Murrah building bombing. He later attended the 10-year anniversary service.

“I remember Bill Clinton saying, ‘Oklahoma City, you broke our hearts but you lifted our spirits.’ It’s been one of the highlights of my life to be friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton because they’re such incredibly interesting people and devoted friends. They’re always there for you,” Turpen said.

Turpen writes in his book that he’s honored to join Bill Clinton each year in New York as part of the Clinton Global Initiative, a group of world leaders who work to solve some of the toughest problems. Turpen has been a member of CGI since it started 10 years ago.

Family

As Turpen talks, he points his fingers, gestures enthusiastically and thrashes his arms about as if he’s swatting flies. Yet, it’s his style, his passion and a tremendous amount of energy that keeps him moving forward and in good health at 64 years-old.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s married to a tremendous woman, has supportive children and was raised by parents who showed love and gave him a solid foundation for life. It’s an added bonus that his wife, Susan, has a heightened sense of humor.

On many public occasions, Turpen has advocated five, three-word phrases that every man should remember if he’s interested in maintaining marital bliss and harmony.

“Men need to say, ‘I love you, you look beautiful, let’s eat out, can I help and it’s my fault,’” he said, with a grin.

After one such public speaking engagement, Susan stood up and said, “Mike needs to practice what he preaches.” Her comment brought the house down, Turpen writes in his book.

As expected, Turpen talks fondly about his wife. In this interview, he practices what he preaches.

“Susan Turpen is the CEO of the Turpen household and she makes the Turpen train run on time,” he said.

As a youngster who was raised in north Tulsa, Turpen learned the importance of books from his mother, who died before “Turpen Time” was published. However, she was able to read the manuscript before her passing. At one point, she mused which Hollywood actress would portray her in the movie.

“Mom believed that a room without books is like a person without a soul. She always said put pen to paper,” Turpen recalled.

His family’s influence may be why Turpen refers to himself as a “happy warrior.”

“I’m a guy who fights the good fight, but is upbeat and optimistic about it. I’m a positive advocate with a God-given high energy level. Mom told her three sons you have a certain amount of energy and we can use it in a positive way or a negative way. It’s a fundamental choice for each of us to make,” he said.

Former Oklahoma Attorney General Robert Henry, who is now president at OCU, describes his longtime friend as “a one of a kind, poignant, charismatic.”

“He’s a public figure who continued to grow in political life and beyond,” said Henry, who will serve as one of the co-hosts at the Aug. 15 book celebration.

A few good causes

Practicing law is Turpen’s vocation, but promoting good causes is his avocation.

“I exist to assist,” he said, while reeling off a list of axioms. “If you ain’t givin’, you ain’t livin’. I’ve learned the more you give, the more you have. Helping people, working with good causes is what melts my butter and turns my crank.”

That’s why Turpen is excited about the Aug. 15 event at the Oklahoma History Center. It’s not self-promotion that drives Turpen. It’s helping others. In this case, 25 Clara Luper scholars are selected, mostly minority students with particular financial needs. The scholarships provide opportunities for academically accomplished and community service-oriented students from underrepresented areas.

Previous Clara Luper Scholars include two students who later became Fulbright Scholars and another student who was named Miss Black Oklahoma.

Tickets to the event are $50 and reservations can be made by calling 405-208-5402. Reservations can also be made online at www.okcu.edu/TurpenTime.

Turpen’s book is available in book stores and can be ordered online at MikeTurpen.tateauthor.com

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