But billionaires are just people. They make bad choices and they do not prove to be right all the time. It’s harder for them to commit mistakes because they have billions to lose.
Who is Robert Edward “Ted” Turner III?
Ted Turner, for instance, is a man with talent and unbelievable business acumen. After making billions in the media industry, he got fired by the CEO of the company that he built with his own genius. To call it an epic fall does not do justice to what Ted must have felt and subsequently experienced. When times are bad at work, these strong men turn to the “women” behind their success. In as much as Ted wanted to do just that, Jane Fonda, his wife, filed for divorce. To make matters worse, an even more lugubrious tragedy struck the Turners. His youngest daughter, Jennie Garlington, lost her two–year–old Maddox to Hurler syndrome—a rare genetic disease.
All of that happened in the same year. Losing his fortune could have been easier for Ted to handle, but the loss of a wife and a grandchild? That’s something you could not just make again nor recover. It’s not enough then to just be a billionaire. Billions of money does not make one happy. Maybe for a time, yes, but not for long. Ted realized that when he lost people he calls family.
"Real relationships come from your relationships with your family and friends, that's where real happiness comes from."
Ted meant that to warn people not to put so much value in their money to the point of sacrificing their relationships with people who should matter more than anything. In spite of his billions, Ted neither had an easy nor rosy life. What he has, though, is a life full of purpose. After that darkest moment of his life, we see Ted channel his business skills in his Montana Grill. A restaurant after TV stations? Ted is not the father of superstations for nothing. He loves variety. Trying his hands on restaurant business gave Ted the outlet he needed to survive his losses. True, it’s far from his glorifying white–collar CNN days, but Ted is happiest when he is near nature. The life in his ranches—he has 15 by the way—provides Ted not only with fresh air but enlivened spirit.
If Ted could give a billion to the United Nations, how much more for a foundation inspired by his late granddaughter Maddox? The Turners turned their grief into a worthy cause by setting up a memorial fund to help children with the Hurler syndrome get due medical attention.
This all boils down to one thing—Ted is more than just a billionaire. He is a proud father, a loving grandfather, a just employer, and a bubbly talk show guest. Apparently, there’s more to Ted than his billions. Perhaps it would help to get to know this man a little bit more to see just how alike he is to us.
Ted Turner’s Family Background
Ted is the eldest son of Robert Edward “Ed” Turner II and Florence Rooney. Ed and Florence were introduced to each other by the latter’s elder brother, George Rooney. Florence lost her fiancé to appendicitis the day before their scheduled betrothal. The bride–to–be was inconsolable and her brother, in his earnestness to ease his sister’s sadness, played cupid between her and Ed.
Ed was brought to Ohio by his ambition. He hailed from a poor family of sharecroppers in Mississippi. Their poverty prevented the bright young Ed from entering Duke University despite his passing the entrance examination. His parents could not afford sending him to a private school, so rather than not attending college at all, Ed contented himself in Millsaps College. Education, however, get set aside if there’s hardly any food on the table. Such was the case in Ed’s household, and so he decided to quit university altogether and find his luck somewhere else.
Chevrolet, Ohio beckoned Ed and before long, he found himself earning his own keep as an automobile dealer. Enter George in his life telling him about his mourning sister whom he might be interested in meeting. After seeing the beautiful Florence, George need not do much convincing. Ed took an instant liking to her and he was not hard to like either; he was charming and exuded so much confidence. He was impossible to miss.
It was a match made in heaven except for one thing—the Rooneys were devout Catholics, while Ed was raised as a Protestant. Their religious differences almost hampered their wedding plans. In order to please the Rooneys, Ed had to swear that their children would be raised in Catholic faith.
Ted’s Early Biography
Ted was born to their family on 19 November 1938. Being the first grandson of the Rooneys and Turners, he was everybody’s favorite. Following Ted’s birth, it became clear to Florence that her husband had no intention of keeping what he promised her parents prior to their wedding. Ed did not want his wife to bring young Ted to church nor expose him to Catholic faith. Eventually, to avoid arguments, topics concerning religion were deemed taboo in their home.
As a young boy, Ted marveled at the beauty of nature. The first word he uttered was “pretty.” Amazing vocabulary for an infant who’s just beginning to speak. When Ted turned four, his father was called to train in the military service. Florence then just gave birth to a daughter, Mary Jean, in September of 1941. Ed and Florence had to fly to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and thought it best for Ted to be left in a boarding school.
It was hard for a four–year–old to understand why his parents brought Mary Jean with them, but chose to leave him to the care of strangers. For a toddler who is used to having his parents around, the thought of being left alone in a confined institution was terrifying.
All Ted could remember about that school was its intimidating walls and the oatmeal it served for breakfast. Ted would often cite that experience as a determining factor for developing insecurities. In his “Call Me Ted” memoir, the usually vivacious Ted somberly wrote:
“The age of four is a very impressionable time and psychiatrists I’ve seen later in my life have attributed a number of insecurities I’ve had ever since to being left alone at such a young age. For example, to this day, I have a significant problem being by myself. I don’t like to be isolated from other people and I also don’t like to feel fenced in.”
His one year stay in that boarding school traumatized Ted for the rest of his life. He was more than happy to leave it when his parents decided to have him taken care of by his grandparents. Why his parents had to send him to a boarding school while he could have been left to their relatives in the first place was beyond him. It must be the place’s rural way of life that George and Florence did not want for their young boy. Unbeknown to them, Ted’s happiest moments when he was a kid were the times he spent “observing all kinds of animals and birds and insects.” Ted, despite not being with his parents and sister, had a great time in Sumner doing things a normal curious boy would.
Ed and Florence returned to Cincinnati with Mary Jean the following year. After quite some time of being separated, the Turners were just happy to get their family life back. But the war had drastic effects on Ed. Ted recounts in his memoir the many times his father beat him in order to “toughen him up.” So bad the beatings got that Ted could recall his tear–stricken mother pleading Ed to stop hitting young Ted. Mary Jean, on the other hand, received kinder treatment from their father.
Ted remembers how his father’s sick discipline once made him break down to sobs:
“I had no way of knowing if this was true but one time when I was only about six or seven years old he decided he’d prove it to me. I’ll never forget it. He handed me the razor strap, lay face down on the bed, and told me to spank him. I tried to obey him but I couldn’t. I loved him so much that I dropped the strap and broke down and cried.”
No matter how severe Ed’s manner of disciplining Ted was, his boy did not develop ill–feelings toward his troubled father. It might sound strange, but Ted did feel his father loved him albeit in a very queer manner. One of the things Ted admired about his father was the way he took his son’s education seriously. Being someone who was not fortunate to get good education, Ed wanted to provide Ted and Mary Jean what he was denied by his poor parents.
Ted, after a year of attending public kindergarten at Sumner, was sent to go to Lotspeich, a private school where he spent first grade. A couple of years of being away from his parents made Ted very needy of attention. To get Ed and Florence to notice him, he did “mischievous things like putting pebbles in the other kids’ galoshes”. Lotspeich teachers could not restrain Ted from misbehaving in school so they decided not to admit him in second grade.
To minimize the possibility of having him expelled again, Ed and Florence enrolled their naughty son in Avondale, a public school. Still behaving badly, Ted was fortunate not to be expelled and he stayed there until his fifth grade.
Ed’s parental discipline did not make life easier for Ted. When he was barely nine years old, his father thought it’s about time he learned the value of hard work. Ed thought it best for Ted to do some errands at home, like mowing their lawn. Lawn mowing would not be as daunting for Ted as it turned out to be if he were using light equipment. However, the type of lawn mower they had was a very heavy one and took a great deal of strength and patience to operate. Talking more about that experience, Ted humorously related in his book:
“Every little stick or acorn you’d hit would jam the thing up. And all these ants and chiggers would get you while you were down on your hands and knees pulling weeds.”
In 1947, Ed began his outdoor advertising business which led to the Turners’ change of residence. Ted, along with the rest of his immediate family, left their Cincinnati home and moved to Savannah, Georgia. Along with the big move was Ted’s change of school. This time, his father thought it would toughen Ted up if he attended a military academy. Fifth grade became the toughest one for Ted who was seriously bullied by his schoolmates in Georgia Military Academy.
The bullying did not go on for long and it did quite toughen him up because after less than a year in the military school, he became friends with the bullies. Ed seeing the change in his son’s behavior decided to again transfer Ted to a public school in Savannah. Attending a public school exposed Ted to subdued and relatively well–behaved kids; so for a time, all was well with his studies.
From his peculiar hobby of dissecting animals, Ted discovered sailing when Jimmy Brown came to the Turners’ life. Jimmy was his father’s hired man to whom he delegated the restoration of a battered sailing boat. Ted found a brother in the 21–year–old colored Jimmy. It was his brotherly affection for him that made Ted a strong proponent of racial equality when he became a man of great influence.
Another boarding school served as then–12–year–old Ted’s home in 1950. The McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, like Georgia Military Academy, enforced military discipline to tame students. The first few years of Ted there were full of mischievous acts. He was one of the most punished students and it would take a few more years for the school to see the brilliant teen behind his attention–grabbing antics.
Ted Goes to College
Time went by quickly and Ted soon had to choose which university to go to. Heeding Ed’s advice to choose an Ivy League university, Ted dropped his hopes of joining the United States Naval Academy. If Ed had it his way, he would have wanted for Ted to enroll in Harvard. But as Ted’s general weighted average did not qualify him to enter Harvard, he chose to go to Brown University instead.
It really had not dawned on Ted which course was best to take, so he registered in Classics, which of course outraged his entrepreneur father. Again to please Ed, he shifted to Economics.
Ted actually did very well as an Economics student in Brown University. He was part of the debate team and also acquired sailing trophies for his school. Unfortunately, Ted was not able to complete his undergraduate studies as he was immediately expelled after being caught red handed keeping a woman in his room. A year before that, Mary Jean contracted lupus and died at the age of 17, straining Ed and Florence’s marriage beyond reconciliation. Ed had to deal with his son’s expulsion and his divorce both in the same year in 1959.
With their family broken and Ted out of school, the only thing that kept Ed’s sanity is the Turner Advertising, which at the time was generating a handsome profit. He gave Ted a position in their Macon, Georgia branch and Ted surprisingly managed the family business impressively. It was also around 1960 when Ted married fellow sailor enthusiast Judy Gale Nye.
Being a Father and a Husband
Sharing the same passion in sailing did not make Ted and Judy’s marriage stronger. In 1962, after two years of being together, the couple filed for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. Ted’s marriage to Judy made him a father of two children: Laura Lee and Robert Edward IV.
Ted proved to be a better businessman than a husband during his younger years. To keep him busy after his divorce, he doubled his efforts on improving their family business that led to his being assigned in the Atlanta branch to assist his father. The family business continued to grow and Ed got engrossed in buying out competitors. The moment Ed found out that he spent more money than what he expected to earn, it was already too late to do anything to save the company from the debts it accrued.
Losing His Father and Inheriting a Struggling Business
Instead of commissioning his son’s help to save the company, he chose the easier way out. Ed shot himself with a pistol on the head in the morning of 5 March 1963. The suicide left Ted fatherless and swimming in debt.
Confused and feeling betrayed, Ted chose to take out all of his frustration and anger on Turner Advertising. He wanted to show his father that he could turn things around; that he was wrong for being unwilling to wait for things to get better. True enough, after a year of his father’s death, Ted was able to slowly pay off the money the company owed. Jane Shirley Smith, whom he married on 2 June 1964, became another inspiration. The marriage, however, was constantly put to the test when Ted began womanizing as his wealth grew. Ted and Jane Shirley would have three kids—Rhet, Beau, and Jenny—before ending their 23–year–marriage in a divorce in 1988.
Turner Advertising started becoming a media behemoth when it bought Atlanta Channel 17 in 1970. Six years after that, Ted changed his company’s name to Turner Broadcasting System, Incorporated. (TBS, Inc.). He even bought the TBS acronym from the MIT student broadcasting network. It was also in 1976 when he purchased Atlanta Braves which would later on become one of the most famous baseball teams in the country. Because of his fascination with nature, Ted also invested in bison ranches.
Ted Invests in Lands and WCW
When Ted won America’s Cup in 1977, he purchased a basketball team, the Atlanta Hawks, in order to create a sports channel for his TV station. But his greatest creation would come in 1980 after officially launching Cable News Network, now famously called CNN, to air news 24 hours a day.
His passion for sports competition best manifested in his creation of the Goodwill Games in 1980 as a response to the boycott of the Olympic Games in 1979.
One of the things Ted was also famous for was his lands. He began purchasing lands in 1987 which eventually became sort of a hobby for him. What he did for fun was soon estimated to cost billions of fortune as he owned an estimated 2 million acres of land, making him the biggest private landowner in the US for the longest time. His land investment, though, did not distract Ted from his biggest source of income—media. The Turner Network Television was launched in 1988 followed by the founding of the Turner Foundation, Incorporated in 1990. The foundation was geared onto conserving water, air, and land resources. During that year, Turner Broadcasting bought World Championship Wrestling, Inc. from Jim Crockett Promotions, a professional wrestling promotion. Ted renamed it Universal Wrestling Corporation but eventually reverted to calling it the World Championship Wrestling. In 2001, however, it was bought by the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) from Time-Warner.
Eleven years since its creation, CNN earned acclaim for its unbiased and reliable news information making Ted TIME Magazine’s first Man of the Year. It was only fitting that he share life with an equally known celebrity. That person came in the form of Hollywood actress and feminist Jane Fonda whom Ted married in 1991.
Ted’s Net Worth Keeps Increasing
Ted’s life could not get any better. There was no stopping Ted from conquering the television industry. In 1992, Ted launched another channel. Cartoon Network catered to kids and hoped to give them programs that taught environmental concern among other values. Two years later, Turner Classic Movies started to be shown catering to the older generation of TV viewers.
Another milestone unfolded for Turner Broadcasting System when it merged with Time Warner, Incorporated in 1996. This made what used to be a billboard advertising company even bigger as it targeted to tap all types of media: print, TV, movies.
A Generous Billionaire
What wowed the world more than the merger was Ted’s $1 billion pledge to the United Nations in 1997. Ted’s philanthropy did not end there. In 2001 when the Time Warner was purchased by AOL, he founded Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) with Senator Sam Nunn.
Little did Ted know that his seemingly perfect life would soon hang in the balance. Jane suddenly had a change of heart and she felt that Ted would take her new–found faith against her. Their 10–year–marriage ended amicably, but left Jane and Ted grief–stricken. Along with that, the merger made Ted nervous as he saw his money get depleted right before his very eyes. Ted eventually left the board of CNN and focused on his business, Ted’s Montana Grill.
It is his restaurants, ranches, and family that basically keep Ted very happy and strong in spite of the billions he had lost. In fact if you ask him what his greatest achievement is after having been able to reach the peak of fame and literally call the shots, he would tell you this without any hesitation: “The greatest single thing is to see my children all turn out well, all five of them.”
With so much love surrounding him, Ted without his billions would never be poor.
Organisations and Campaigns Supported
- Avoided Deforestation Partners
- Captain Planet Foundation
- Children's Cancer & Blood Foundation
- Children with AIDS
- Mines Advisory Group
- Nothing But Nets
- Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
- United Nations Foundation
- United Nations
- Goodwill Games
- Ted's Montana Grill
- Kappa Sigma
- National Association of College Broadcasters
- Savannah Yacht Club
- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (joined to fight malaria)
- Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (joined to fight malaria)
- United Methodist Church (joined to fight malaria)
- Family planning
- Environmental causes
- Young Republicans
- Turner Foundation
- United States Coast Guard
- Public forum debate of the National Forensic League
- Turner Endangered Species Fund
- Turner Enterprises, Inc.
- Millennium Development Goal
- Maddox Garlington Memorial Fund
- Obama’s healthcare bill
- Better World Society
- 1963: Took over Turner Outdoor Advertising
- 1964: Competed in the Olympic trials in sailing category
- 1970: Began Turner Broadcasting System
- 1970: Named U.S. Sailing Yachtsman of the Year
- 1973: Named U.S. Sailing Yachtsman of the Year
- 1976: Bought Atlanta Braves
- 1976: Bought Atlanta Hawks
- 1977: Led America's Cup
- 1977: Named U.S. Sailing Yachtsman of the Year
- 1979: Named Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year
- 1979: Named U.S. Sailing Yachtsman of the Year
- 1980: Created Cable News Network
- 1984: Received Lifetime Achievement Award from N.Y. International Film and TV Festival
- 1986: Founded Goodwill Games
- 1986: Purchased MGM/UA
- 1986: Established Turner Entertainment Company
- 1987: Received the Golden Cable ACE Award
- 1988: Received Citizen Diplomat Award
- 1988: Launched Turner Network Television
- 1988: Introduced World Championship Wrestling
- 1989: Created Turner Tomorrow Fellowship
- 1989: Awarded by Brown University with an Honorary Degree
- 1990: Created the Turner Foundation
- 1990: Created Captain Planet and the Planeteers
- 1990: Named by the American Humanist Association as Humanist of the Year
- 1991: Named by Time Magazine as the first Man of the Year
- 1991: Received the Global Television Outstanding Achievement Award
- 1992: Received the Governor's Award
- 1992: Received a Special Award from the National Board of Review, USA
- 1993: Inducted into America's Cup Hall of Fame
- 1993: Founded, together with Eduard Sagalajev, the The Moscow Independent Broadcasting Corporation
- 1993: Received the Golden Boot
- 1994: Launched Turner Classic Movies
- 1995: Received the Career Achievement Award from Television Critics Association Awards
- 1996: Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. merged with Time Warner, Inc.
- 1996: Received Career Achievement Award
- 1996: PGA awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award in Television
- 1997: Launched the Turner Endangered Species Fund
- 1998: Gave $1 billion to start the United Nations Foundation
- 1998: Received a Personal Award from Peabody Awards
- 1999: Received Humanitarian Award from Women in Film Crystal Awards
- 1999: Named Broadcasting and Cable’s Man of the Century
- 2001: Launched the Nuclear Threat Initiative
- 2002: Opened the first Ted’s Montana Grill
- 2002: Received the CINE Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2004: Included in the Walk of Fame
- 2006: Received the Bower Award for Business Leadership
- 2007: Inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame
- 2009: Named by Time as one of 100 World’s Most Influential People
- 2010: Named Georgia Trustee
- 2011: Inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame
- 2011: Recipient of the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation’s Renaissance Man of the Year award
- 2012: Recipient of the Overseas Press Club Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2012: Received International Award of Excellence in Conservation
- Owner of 15 ranches
- Largest private landowner until 2011
- Created Captain Planet and the Planeteers
- Vice-president of the Brown Debating Union in college
- Captain of Brown University's sailing team in college
- Recipient of Albert Schweitzer Gold Medal for Humanitarianism