POLSON – Jean Allen Turnage, 89, family man and devoted public servant, died peacefully Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. Jean, a member of the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, was born in St. Ignatius on March 10, 1926, and graduated high school there in 1944.
During the school year, Jean worked as a service station attendant and drove a delivery truck that delivered milk from the various dairy farms throughout the Mission Valley to the creamery in Polson. In the summers, he worked as a carpenter’s apprentice at the Naval Training Station in Bayview, Idaho, and also as a boilermaker in the Kaiser Shipyards at Swan Island, Oregon.
After high school, Jean enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served as a top turret gunner on a B-29 until his honorable discharge in 1946.
Next Jean enrolled in the University of Montana, where he served on the law review and received his law degree in 1951. While attending law school, he worked for the Montana Highway Department.
Jean’s distinguished lifelong career in the law started with his private practice in Polson in 1951, where his law firm still carries his name some 64 years later. Just after he opened his practice, he met and married the love of his life, Eula Mae Johnson, in 1952. That same year he was elected Lake County attorney and served five terms, and in 1959 served as president of the Montana County Attorneys Association.
In 1962, he was elected to the Montana House of Representatives and then to the Montana State Senate in 1964, where he served for 20 years. While in the state Senate, he chaired the Taxation and Judiciary Committees, served as minority leader in 1967, majority leader in 1977 and as president of the Senate for the 1983 session.
In 1976, he was appointed a special assistant attorney general and argued a case on behalf of the state of Montana before the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
In 1984, he was elected chief justice of the Montana Supreme Court and again in 1992, serving 16 years as Montana’s top judicial official. While on the Supreme Court, in 1993 he was elected president of the National Conference of Chief Justices and also served as chairman of the board of directors of the National Center for State Courts.
In 1995, he was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Legal Letters from the University of Montana.
After retiring from the Montana Supreme Court in 2000, Jean returned to his private practice and continued serving clients until he went on Senior Status in 2014.
Mr. Turnage was in the Masonic Order, including the Shrine and Jesters, the American Legion, VFW, Elks and Rotary International, as well as a life member of the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association and the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana.
Jean was preceded in death by his parents, Edward and Julia Turnage; his sister, Antoinette Flynn; and brother, Russell Thompson.
He is survived by his wife, Eula Mae; daughter, Patricia; son, Lloyd (Geri); grandchildren, Erin Leonard (fiancé Doug Trigg), James Turnage and Joseph Turnage; and great-grandchildren, Tristian Leonard, Austin Leonard and Natalie Leonard.
Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1, at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Polson followed by interment with full military honors by the Mission Valley Honor Guard at Lake View Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to the Ninepipes Museum of Early Montana, Shriners Hospitals for Children, Mission Valley Animal Shelter or the charity of your choice.
Memories and condolences may be sent to the family at thelakefuneralhomeandcrematory.com. Arrangements are under the direction of The Lake Funeral Home and Crematory.