Dr. Charles Turnbull: The history teacher who became the governor of the US Virgin Islands

thMany talented educators have also distinguished themselves as accomplished politicians. An example of this can be found in Dr. Charles Wesley Turnbull, the twenty-seventh governor of the US Virgin Islands.

Charles was born February 5, 1935, in Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas Island. The city is the capital of the US Virgin Islands. His parents were Ruth Ann Eliza (Skelton) and John Wesley Turnbull, impoverished immigrants from Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. As a child, Charles attended public schools, graduating from Charlotte Amalie High School in 1952.

As a young man, Charles earned both his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Hampton University, a traditionally African American institution of higher learning located in Hampton, Virginia. His education was funded by a Ford Foundation Scholarship. While at Hampton, Charles served as vice president of his freshman class and president of both his sophomore and senior classes. He was also selected as the chief justice of the student court. Charles earned a bachelor’s degree in history with honors in 1958, and his master’s degree in secondary education in 1959. In 1972 he earned a doctorate degree in educational administration from the University of Minnesota.

Charles began his career as an educator as a teacher at the elementary level, eventually becoming a history teacher at the secondary level. Eventually, he worked his way up to the position of principal of his alma mater, Charlotte Amalie High School. Later he became a professor at the University of the Virgin islands. In 1967, the gifted educator accepted a position as the Commissioner of the Territorial Department of Education, where he served from 1979 to 1987. During his years there, Charles was responsible for constructing new schools, eliminating double sessions, initiating vocational and technical programs, inaugurating alternative education programs, and encouraging the involvement of volunteers. He also established the Cultural Education Division to promote awareness of the history and culture of the Virgin Islands and the greater Caribbean region.

In 1998 Charles was elected the sixth governor of the US Virgin Islands. Prior to 1970, the governor was appointed by the US president. Once elected, Charles served two terms. During his tenure, he served as a member of the National Governors Association, the Southern Governors Association, and the Democratic Governors Association.

For his tireless work as an educator, Charles has been honored with numerous awards. Among these are the Leadership and Service in the Field of Education award in 1989; the Citation for Excellence in the Service of Humanity in 1992; the Turner Broadcasting System’s Trumpet Award for Outstanding Contributions to Public Service and Education in 2001; and the Humanist Award from the Virgin Islands Humanities Council in 2005.

Charles Wesley Turnbull: a true Chalkboard Champion.