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  • Writer's pictureDonald V. Watkins

We Are Forever Grateful To Juanita R. Turner

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

By: Donald V. Watkins

February 23, 2023

IMAGE: Dr. Annie Marie Watkins Garraway, Ph.D., is a mathematician and philanthropist.

The Juanita R. Turner Memorial Fund at LeMoyne-Owen College is named for the high school and college teacher in Memphis, Tennessee who launched Dr. Annie Marie Watkins Garraway, Ph.D., towards a successful career as a mathematician. This scholarship fund was established by Dr. Garraway in 2018.

Dr. Garraway is my oldest sister. She is also the oldest child of our parents, Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr., and Ms. Lillian Bernice Watkins. Inside of our family, we call Dr. Garraway, "Marie."

Marie has been one of my role models since early childhood. She has always inspired and motivated me to pursue educational excellence and to climb the highest mountains in business. I admire and respect her so much.

Marie always reminds my siblings and me that we can never be silent about the things that matter in life.

The inspirational story of the math teacher in Memphis and her young student at Owen Junior College is featured in a July 2, 2018 article in the Tri-State Defender newspaper titled, “’Hidden Figures’ moves LOC alum to endow math scholarship.” It also appears in a July 5, 2018 article in the Commercial Appeal newspaper titled, “'Hidden Figures' leads to math scholarship for LeMoyne-Owen College students.

Juanita R. Turner Epitomized Educational Excellence

The “Hidden Figures” novel and movie made Marie think fondly about Ms. Juanita R. Turner. Ms. Turner was Marie's math teacher during her freshman year at Owen in 1957-58.

Our father, Dr. Levi Watkins Sr., was Owen’s first president. In 1968, Owen merged with LeMoyne College.

Ms. Turner taught math full-time at Manassas High School, while also teaching college algebra at Owen.

“She recognized that I had a talent for math,” Marie said. “She had me stay after class to do more math exercises. She did this even though she had spent a full workday at Manassas.”

Marie departed Memphis for Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois after her freshman year at Owen. She never saw Ms. Turner, a LeMoyne College alumna, again.

“As a result of her working with me, I never had trouble with math,” Marie said.

Marie received her undergraduate and master’s degrees in mathematics from Northwestern.

In 1967, Marie earned her Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of California at Berkley. Marie's thesis is titled, "Structure of some cocycles in analysis," and is available on Google Books.

Marie is among the first 15 black women in America to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics.

IMAGE: Dr. Garraway's pioneering mathematical algorithms and inventions for Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies paved the way for the modern era of telecommunications and the electronic transmission of data around the world.

After college, Marie enjoyed a long and successful career at Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies. Her pioneering mathematical algorithms and inventions for Bell Labs and Lucent Technologies paved the way for the modern era of telecommunications and the electronic transmission of data around the world.

Marie hopes the Juanita R. Turner Memorial Fund will bring out the "Hidden Figures" among LeMoyne-Owen's math students.

Ms. Turner died on Dec. 3, 1980. She was 64.

Ms. Turner's funeral program contained this endearing quote: “A teacher touches infinity; we never know where her influence stops.”

Ms. Turner's influence never stopped. And, it has touched infinity, literally and figuratively.

This article is dedicated to Ms. Turner and her greatness as a teacher and humanitarian. The Watkins family is forever indebted to Ms. Turner for her gift of love and caring for Marie.

Marie Always Gives Back to Our Community

Today, Marie finds enjoyment in tutoring young college-bound students and in her carrying on with her endless philanthropic work.

Each one of Marie's three children has earned a doctorate degree. Additionally, medical degrees were simultaneously conferred upon two of her children, along with their Ph.D. degrees.

Marie has also established and endowed scholarships at Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt University’s Medical School, and Johns Hopkins Medical School in honor of our brother, Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr.

In Alabama, Marie has established a scholarship fund at Alabama State University in honor of our father. Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr., was president of ASU from 1962 to 1981.

The pursuit of educational excellence has been a core Watkins family value since our ancestors were emancipated from slavery in 1865.

The Watkins family is proud of Marie. And, we truly appreciate all of the work she has done/is doing for our community.


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