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Vanderbilt mourns loss of tireless philanthropist Dugas

Jan. 20, 2022, 8:46 AM


by Nancy Humphrey

Laura Jo Turner Dugas

Laura Jo Turner Dugas, who along with her brothers Cal Jr. and Steve Turner and their families, have been longtime supporters of Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, died on Dec. 26, 2021. She was 84.

The Dugas and Turner family’s generosity has had a longstanding impact over many years, from building and expanding the freestanding Children’s Hospital to supporting expert leaders to establishing transformational programs like telemedicine.

Many causes and organizations throughout several states have benefited from the family’s tireless philanthropy.

Mrs. Dugas traced her heart for giving to her parents. Her mother established a nursing scholarship at Western Kentucky University for students from her hometown of Scottsville, Kentucky, and her father — who founded Dollar General Corp. — donated $1,000 to each church in their community — 95 in all.

Most recently, in 2020, the family funded a new space on the 11th floor of Children’s Hospital and a pilot program dedicated to the hospital’s state-of-the-art telemedicine technology, a gift that enabled the hospital to quickly ramp up telemedicine at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The facilities were funded and named in honor of Mrs. Dugas and her late husband, Wayne Dugas, the Cal Turner Family Foundation and the James Stephen Turner Family Foundation.

The area includes a telemedicine-enabled conference room and clinician workstations, and the pilot program collaborated with the Allen County Kentucky Health Department and school system to provide services to children in and around Scottsville.

“For decades, members of the Turner family have been thoughtful, generous champions of the Medical Center’s missions. I want to express my sympathy to Mrs. Dugas’ family regarding her recent passing. She was sincerely committed to helping others. While there are countless examples of the family’s impact, the gift to fund a telemedicine center for Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt was prescient, placing the hospital in an advantageous position to help our patients as the use of telemedicine has soared during the pandemic,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and CEO of VUMC and Dean of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Cal Turner Jr. said Mrs. Dugas, two years older, was the oldest of the four Turner children, and “the best of the lot, as far as I’m concerned.

“She was the matriarch of our family. Because of her, I’ve concluded that the most blessed male of all is he who has grown up with an older sister, because you understand life better, you understand behavior better and you have a better respect for women,” Turner said.

Mrs. Dugas was “frisky and wonderful” growing up, a child loved by everyone who knew her. “She was the driving force behind the foundation that honored our mother — the Laura Goad Turner Charitable Foundation,” Turner said. “She had a lot of business common sense and a heart for serving others.”

Only a couple of weeks before her death, Mrs. Dugas was still discussing the family’s next steps in philanthropy, Turner said. “She spoke of mental health as being a real devastating plague of society today, and there are issues in society we should do something about.”

Turner said Mrs. Dugas was very proud of the foundation’s gift to Children’s Hospital, and particularly what it could do to help those in Scottsville, about 65 miles north of Nashville.

“I’ll always remember her twinkle for life and her joy in living and serving others,” Turner said. “She knew how to be a mature and true friend to others, and she loved our family. She was a true Southern lady.”

Meg Rush, MD, MMHC, President of Children’s Hospital, said that Mrs. Dugas was “a wonderful, longtime friend” of Children’s Hospital.

“She and her family were raised to serve others and enrich communities. Laura Jo did just that as she championed a number of our initiatives over many years. We are grateful for her compassionate and thoughtful support of our programs to advance children’s health and well-being. Her legacy is carried forward through the lives of children she has touched with her gifts,” Rush said.

Mrs. Dugas is survived by her brother Cal Turner Jr., brother Steve Turner and his wife Judy, son Steve Dugas and his wife Lynn, grandchildren Brittnie Dugas, Will Dugas, Laura Nicole Dugas, Tyler Dugas, and Christian Dugas, step-granddaughter Kelly Mays, nieces Katherine Sikora and Laura Anne Turner, nephews Robert Wayne Dugas, Jay Turner, Cal Turner III and John Weaver and brother-in-law Manuel Dugas and his wife Linda. She is preceded in death by her husband of almost 60 years, Wayne Foster Dugas, sons Foster and Bruce Dugas, parents Laura Katherine and Cal Turner, sister Betty Turner Campbell, sister-in-law Margaret Turner, brother-in-law Don Weaver and nephews Van Dugas and Warren Weaver.

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