January 21, 2003

Ted Turner delights audience at law school

By Eric Rangus erangus@emory.edu

About three-quarters of the way through his 25-minute talk in Gambrell Hall’s Tull Auditorium, Jan. 13, Ted Turner let loose with an off-the-cuff comment the type of which many of the 200 people in attendance had probably hoped he would unleash.

“Life is fun,” Turner said. “But nuclear war will really mess it up.”

The expression drew a hearty laugh from the crowd and nicely summed up Turner’s address, which bounced almost without pause from his selling of CNN to Time Warner, to global conflicts, to environmentalism, to the destruction of nuclear weapons, to checking oneself for skin cancer and many other points in between.

Turner was on campus as part of the School of Law’s Distinguished Speaker Series, now in its third year. The entrepreneur and philanthropist has a significant tie to Emory as well. In 1997, a grant from the Turner Foundation established the Turner Environmental Law Clinic, which has received nearly $1 million from the Turner Foundation since its inception.

“In the 20th century there has been no more innovative or imaginative business person,” said President Bill Chace in his introduction of Turner. “And he has transformed the pleasure and art of giving away money.”

“I live my life as a kind of adventure,” said Turner, early in his remarks. “I feel like Columbus. I didn’t know where I was going when I started, and I didn’t know where I’d been when I got back.”

“Adventure” was an appropriate word for Turner to use so early in his talk. Well known for his improvised speeches, Turner leaped from subject to subject with barely a pause, managing to say something memorable in each vignette.

On his selling of CNN to Time Warner: “If you ever have control in business, be careful who you merge with. I thought I was buying Time Warner. Then they merged with AOL, and it’s been a complete disaster.”

On business setbacks: “I’ve lost about 85 percent of the fortune I’ve earned. But the way you deal with setbacks is maybe even more important than how you deal with success.”

On growing older: “I’ve found it harder to be as happy now as when I was younger.”

On global conflict: “I wouldn’t have a problem with wars in which the weapons were limited to sticks and stones. That way only the combatants would be casualties.”

On nuclear nonproliferation: “If we want people to get rid of their nuclear weapons, we’ve got to get rid of ours. They’re not good for anything anymore.”

(At one point prior to this comment, Turner pulled a card from his wallet and read directly from the text of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty signed by the United States in 1968.)

And on life in the future: “We have all the technology. We can make our future whatever we want. We can exterminate ourselves, or we can live in a nice little paradise.”

Following his talk, Turner answered a handful of questions. He had a quip for that, too. “Q&A is always more fun,” he said. “Of course, I’ll probably take the Fifth Amendment on a bunch of stuff.”

He didn’t, responding to questions ranging from why he decided to sail in the America’s Cup to what his proposal would be for enforcing a plan to destroy nuclear weapons (his answer to the latter was to completely isolate any countries that didn’t comply with a United Nations resolution to destroy the weapons).

Prior to the event, Turner met with students, faculty and administrators at a reception in Gambrell Hall. He also toured the facilities of the law clinic. Since 1997, the clinic has represented more than 20 local, state and national environmental organizations and civil groups in a variety of legal matters.






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