Carrying the Flame

Elaine Turner brings home the gold for Special Olympians

Published in 2007 Oklahoma Super Lawyers — November 2007

The most rewarding moments in Elaine Turner’s career come from delivering results for her clients. But the most rewarding moments in her life come from her work with the Special Olympics of Oklahoma. 

When she started law school at Oklahoma City University, she thought her future lay in criminal law, but quickly realized employment law was what held her interest. When she graduated from law school in 1989, Turner took a job with Hall Estill, and has been there ever since.

“The thing that is the most important about the work that I do is the people I represent,” Turner says. “I’m able to help my clients navigate through the process and help them make the right decisions for their businesses.”

 

Seven years into her career, Turner realized she wanted to give something back to the community. In 1996, she volunteered for a Special Olympics event. 

“It’s so refreshing,” Turner says. “You forget all about your own issues and your own problems. To see how much it means to a Special Olympics athlete and to see their attitudes toward life—it’s inspiring.”

Within a few months of her volunteer experience, Turner was named the Oklahoma County competition chairperson, in charge of planning the events for one of the most active Special Olympics counties in the state. She organized a track and field event for 700 athletes, three bowling events, a basketball tournament and bocce ball and horseshoe competitions. And she’s done it every year since. 

In 1998, she was named the state director for the bocce ball and horseshoe competitions, which she held in addition to her role as county competition chairperson. She provided training and recruited people to host events, holding the position until 2004. 

Teri Hockett, program director for Special Olympics Oklahoma, says it is the dedication of volunteers like Turner that make the organization so successful. 

“She has touched the lives of so many,” Hockett says. “She doesn’t help just once in a while; she’s always there.”

While Turner can look back on over a decade of Special Olympics memories, one competition in particular stands out. In 2001, Turner joined the unified partner program of the Special Olympics, designed to pair a competitor alongside a person without special needs. Turner was paired with athlete Stacy Long and, in 2002, they began training in bocce ball. That year, the pair was chosen to participate in the Special Olympics World Games in Ireland.

“I got to see the best side of people,” Turner said. “I can’t tell you how warmly the athletes were treated. Walking into the opening ceremonies in a soccer stadium built for 75,000, and it was packed. The noise was deafening and it was all for the Special Olympics athletes.”

Turner and Long brought home the gold. They still keep in contact and celebrate birthdays together. 

 

Balancing work and the Special Olympics is a challenge—Turner estimates that she spends 100 hours or more a year on Special Olympics events, planning and organization—but she counts herself lucky to have supportive co-workers and clients. 

At the firm, Turner specializes in defending employers against lawsuits. “Those moments are memorable when you’ve helped the client and you’ve gotten a good result,” Turner says. “We’ve helped them at a really tough situation, something that could have shut down their business and destroyed their livelihood.

“I love employment law,” she continues. “I enjoy the legal issues and the contact you have with people. I’m fortunate that I’ve found a wonderful place to work. I get to do something I feel good about and I feel proud to help people in these situations.”

Mike Smith, managing partner in the Oklahoma City office of Hall Estill, says Turner is an invaluable asset. She was elected to the board of directors of the firm, which Smith says speaks volumes about her leadership abilities.

“She’s a terrific advocate. She cares about people and that comes across immediately when you meet her and talk to her,” Smith says. “She’s a real person and people like her and respect her, but she’s also tough as nails.” 

“I think contributing to the community should be important to everyone,” Turner says. “The world is a much better place when you’re not only looking out for yourself, but when you’re looking out for others, too.”  

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