PITTSBURG -- Darnell Turner, a board member of the Los Medanos Community Healthcare District and a past president of the East County chapter of the NAACP, was remembered as a dedicated community activist following his death early Monday.
Turner, a Pittsburg resident, died at the age of 52. He had suffered a heart attack in 2011.
"Darnell was one of the warriors in all of East County," said Willie Mims, a longtime friend and a member of the Pittsburg-based Black Political Association. "When it came to political battles, he was right on the forefront and he was respected by a lot of folks who didn't like him. He was committed to his community and protecting the rights of all of those who have been stepped on."
Over the years, Turner was involved in many issues, including supporting a successful recall effort that removed three board members of the Pittsburg Unified School District in 1997 over allegations of racism involving the firing of an African-American superintendent, as well as pushing for increased minority hiring of managerial municipal employees to be more reflective of Pittsburg's diverse population.
"He is one of those people, once you meet him, you never forget him," said Odessa Lefrancois, current president of the East County NAACP chapter who was inspired to join the organization because of Turner's activism. "He was honest, a sincere person. Sometimes I think he was so caring, he took on too much. He was not able to say no."
"He was a hardworking guy. As an elected official, I think he had a lot of potential," Contra Costa Supervisor Federal Glover said.
Besides taking on causes, Turner, who was divorced, was devoted to his young daughter and mother.
"He was just as sweet as he could be. He believed in helping people," his mother, Birdine Turner, recalled when reached at her Pittsburg home.
Turner had "a great love for people and the community ... He dedicated his whole life to the community. He was a natural-born leader," said Charles Glasper, president of the Black Political Association.
Turner ran unsuccessfully for a Pittsburg City Council seat in the early 1990s before winning a seat on the Los Medanos Community Healthcare District, where at the time of his death he was serving as vice chairman. It is unclear at this time how his position will be filled.
What is clear is that the desire to hold political office had been a constant in his life. In a 2003 profile published in this newspaper, Turner said that he had run for City Council when he was 19 years old in his hometown of Helena, Ark., losing by only 27 votes.
Pittsburg Mayor Ben Johnson recalled running against Turner for City Council in the early 1990s.
"He was a really nice guy ... He wanted to make the city a better place for all communities, not just one race, but for all races in the community," he said.
Memorial services are pending.
Reach Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.