He is the reason I moved to Atlanta. He’s also a man this city owes an incredible amount to, yet I barely see anything around town with his name on it anymore.
Ted Turner recently announced he has Lewy body dementia, a progressive brain disorder that affects behavior, cognition, and movement. It differs from Alzheimer’s disease in that Alzheimer’s impacts memory more significantly, but they and Parkinson’s are all similar in the way they damage the body. Robin Williams was found to have had Turner’s disease post-mortem.
The news of Turner’s diagnosis made me sad. I grew up with TBS, his “superstation” that aired in Nashville and introduced me to Bill Tush and the Atlanta Braves. It also made me curious about the man who was changing television. Turner revolutionized the 24-hour format of instant information that we are used to today. We are so quick to honor others whose similar advances have modernized our way of doing things, such as Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerburg, but Turner’s name should be top of mind as well, since without him we’d have to wait until the evening news like our parents and grandparents to find out what happened during the day.
At the same time, he championed environmental issues through his creation of “Captain Planet and the Planeteers,” and the eventual purchase of two million acres of personal and ranch land in 10 U.S. states and Argentina, most of which will be transformed into state and federal parklands upon his death. His restaurant chain, “Ted’s Montana Grill,” uses paper straws, which has not been produced in the United States since 1970. The chain has eco-friendly bathrooms, with dual flush toilets and eco-friendly soap. His company was the first I personally experienced to have recycling bins in the office. He even donated $1 billion to the United Nations in a move that some say changed philanthropy.
I argue that without Ted Turner and his company’s efforts downtown, that area would never have evolved to the way it looks today. And without that initial development, I don’t think Atlanta would have been awarded the 1996 Olympics. Furthermore, thousands of people like me would have never moved to Atlanta to work for his company.
Now that we know Turner will be in the final competition of his life, the one with his body, I can’t help but think how I wish Atlanta was more thankful for his influence. I was always fascinated by this somewhat eccentric man who brilliantly bought properties like the Braves, MGM, and Warner Brothers in a simple effort to have content for his television networks. I always appreciated and shared his love of broadcasting.
So why aren’t there more physical accolades to this progressive man in Atlanta? Now that the Braves are in a new stadium that doesn’t bear his name, what’s left? A street sign and his former company which, due to the latest company buy-out, might change its headquarters away from Atlanta. Why is he missing from our celebrated history? Will Atlantans who aren’t old enough to remember when he was an active part of the community know who he is? For me, Ted Turner and Atlanta will always be synonymous.