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2004-11-12T00:00:00.000Z

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Background Information

Employment History

Secretary To the Regional Director

U.S. Department of Labor

Department of Labor

Education

Blayton School

Web References


MORGAN COUNTY CITIZEN: A life of quiet achievement

morgancountycitizen.com [cached]

Rena Turner has a better memory than she'll admit.

"My brain isn't that good," she'll tell you if you ask about the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta, where she was working as secretary to the regional director of the United States Department of Labor at the time.She'll say the same thing if you ask her about growing up in a segregated South, or about the workings of Madison circa 1979, when she moved here permanently.
Just give her a minute.Rena remembers.She lived on the west side of Atlanta, and she attended Rush Memorial Congregational Church for kindergarten, Ashby Street School and Booker T. Washington High School.She liked S. L. Neal's science class in high school, and she was also, as she put it, "crazy about math."
"We really did get a good education," she said.She remembers more than she lets on.
Rena has a lot to remember.At 80 years old, she's seen more historical ups and downs than most Morgan countians.Her hands belie her age, they aren't lineless, but their skin is soft and the color of chocolate milk.
...
"By the time I cut a garment, the phone rings with funeral business," Rena said."I just can't."
She also used to decorate cakes for her friends (she was paid in "thank yous," she said.) Shorthand, another of Rena's long-lost talents, doesn't totally elude her.She still manages to scrawl "I am the only one who knows how" in shorthand.In a world dominated by Javascript and HTML, it looks like hieroglyphs.
Rena's office walls are covered in plaques.Once hung in a strictly perpendicular manner, the nearby train tracks have derailed any chance of permanent 90 degree order.When the train goes by, she takes care to re-hang each cooked plaque and photograph.The train keeps coming, but so does Rena.
She's worked all her life.After she graduated from high school, Rena went on to study at the Blayton School of Accounting, where, like many women of her day, she learned typing and the aforementioned shorthand.
"I loved every bit of it," she said.
Rena uses historical benchmarks to straighten out her own life's chronology.When she's trying to remember what years she attended the Blayton School, she wonders aloud "When did Kennedy get killed?"
Rena's been gainfully employed for the last 50 years, so sweeping social phenomena like the Civil Rights Movement, while not sidestepping her completely, weren't focal points for her.
"I didn't participate," she says of her days spent watching parades march through Atlanta."You can do a whole lot of things on paper that all that walking won't do."
Every four years, Rena does things on paper.She estimates that she's been voting for 55 years, ever since she was in college and saw a campaign urging anyone over 18 to cast a ballot.In this quiet way, Rena uses her vote as an instrument of change, however small.
"One vote will count, but if you don't vote there's no vote to be counted," she says.
At 80, Rena's still a worker.She's on the clock at the funeral home, which is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For a funeral home, normal business hours often aren't enough, and 3 a.m. phone calls mean Rena often inadvertently works the midnight shift.If you ask Rena how many hours she works a week, she'll answer you with a laugh.
"All of 'em, from any time I'm needed," she says.
Working at a funeral home doesn't bother her a bit,she's been doing it full-time since leaving the Department of Labor after 21 years, six months and five days.Her grandfather had a funeral home in Forsyth, and when she was younger her mother would send her there during summers.
Jones and Turner is adding on a new wing, one that looks very different from the dark wood-paneled rooms of the original building.The new wing will seat 120 people, and the walls are cream-colored and feature several large windows.When this wing is finished, Rena wants to retire.After working for so long, does Rena have any plans for retirement?
"Yeah, help them," she says, referring to her son and grandson."It keeps me occupied."
Thing is, Rena's been occupied for a while.And even though she's winding down, as she'll tell you, there's still work for her to do,

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