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Ernest "Ernie" Turner

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Ernest "Ernie" TURNER Ernie passed away on October 31st, 2010 after a courageous battle with cancer. His passing is deeply mourned by his family, friends and a host of recovering alcoholics whom he embraced with his love and wisdom. Ernie, a native Athabascan, was born in Shageluk, Alaska in 1930. As a youth he hunted and fished and his fondest memories were of time spent with his grandfather who taught him the spiritual vision of his tribe. Ernie moved to Seattle after he contracted tuberculosis and was confined for 2 years in the Laurel Beach Sanitarium in Washington. He became a barber, married and fathered 3 children. He had begun drinking in his teens and as his alcoholism grew worse his marriage and job were destroyed. He drifted to Seattle where he became 'a hopeless street drunk' until a kind judge sent him to treatment in 1968. Ernie got sober and learned everything he could about alcoholism. He studied the work of Dr. James Milam, the author of Under the Influence and came to believe that alcoholism was a biological disease, genetically passed on and fatal if untreated. Effective treatment and active membership in a 12-step program made recovery not only possible but probable. From 1971 till his death, Ernie worked in addiction treatment and became a pioneer in the establishment of treatment programs for Native Americans. He established Thunderbird House, a residential treatment center in Seattle as well as being the force behind a 44 bed facility for Native Americans at Cedar Hills Treatment Center, the Ernie Turner wing. In 1988 he moved back to Alaska to establish a Native American Treatment Center in Anchorage, also renamed after him. He also served a two-year period as the Director of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Programs for the State of Alaska. Ernie spent a total of 14 years working for Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers in Kirkland, WA. He was a counselor, treatment director and training director. Ernie was a gifted counselor. Patients in his lectures and groups sensed immediately that he knew their pain, had found the path to a happy recovery, and believed that each of them could walk the same path. A middle-aged male patient upon completion of treatment summed up the feelings of all patients, 'When I grow up I want to be just like Ernie Turner.' Ernie Turner was an icon to recovering people and addiction professionals in Washington and Alaska. At the Annual School on Addictions in Anchorage, the Ernie Turner award is given to a professional who exemplifies Ernie's dedication, skill and ability to inspire others. To those of us who knew him well, Ernie was a hero of a different kind. He was the model of a good and wise man, humble, quick with a smile and at ease with himself. He was unimpressed with his own achievements, preferring to talk about your welfare. Ernie made you want to be a better person and a better friend. Ernie is survived by his beloved wife of 28 years, Rosanne, his children Elizabeth, Randall, Vicki, Kevin and Richard and his brothers and sister Frank, Bernard, Irene and Priscilla. A celebration of his life will be held on November 12th, 2010 at 11:00am in the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle (3801 West Government Way). In lieu of flowers please send donations to St. Jude Children's Hospital.
Published in The Seattle Times on Nov. 6, 2010
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