Image Ownership: Public Domain
Debbye Turner (Bell), the third African American woman to win the Miss America crown, was born on September 19, 1965 in Honolulu, Hawaii. She is an American veterinarian, talk show host, and former beauty queen. She was Miss America 1990. Bell is the daughter of Frederick and the late Gussie Turner. Her father is a retired military lieutenant colonel and her late mother was a college counselor. Turner, who was raised in Jonesboro, Arkansas, was first runner up in the Miss Black Teenage World pageant in 1981. She participated in the Miss Arkansas state pageant three times placing first runner up twice. Finally, she decided to try her luck at the Miss Missouri pageant. In 1989 she won the Miss Missouri title and competed in the September 1989 pageant in Atlantic City where she won the Miss America crown.
Turner was the first woman from Missouri to win the Miss America title. At the time she was just four months shy of receiving her doctorate. After her reign as Miss America ended, Turner returned to the University of Missouri College of Veterinarian Medicine where she earned her doctorate degree in 1991. Turner pursued a career in veterinary medicine before making the decision to go into television. She also served as the national spokesperson for the Ralston Purina Company for several years. She is the first African American winner to have later serves as a judge in the pageant.
Turner was the host of a PBS series about pets and veterinary medicine entitled “The Gentle Doctor” which ran from 1995 to 1998. She also hosted co-hosted a local magazine program called me “Show me St. Louis” from 1995 to 2001. Since 2001, Turner has been involved in broadcast journalism as a staff correspondent for CBS News. She currently serves as a contributor for CBS’s “The Early Show” where she provides commentary on a number of topics ranging from animals to the trials of adulthood.
Debbye Turner was also the first Miss America required to have a platform to discuss and promote during her reign. She adopted the issue of youth motivation and long after 1991 she continues to serve as a motivational speaker on the subject. Since her crowning she has spoken to hundreds of thousand of students at hundreds of schools, youth organizations, and college campuses on the topics of self esteem, perseverance, and the importance of being educationally motivated and ambitious. In addition to her speaking engagements she has found time to serve on many local, state, and national boards such as the National Advisory Child Health and Human Development Council.
Debbye Turner Bell currently lives in the New York City area with her husband, Gerald Bell, a communications manager, and their daughter. The couple were married on April 12, 2008.
Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin, There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2004); Karima Harris, “Miss America: From Vanessa Williams to Kimberly Aiken,” Ebony Magazine, January 1994; www.debbyeturner.com; Lynn Norment, “Back- to- Back Black Miss America’s,” Ebony, December 1990, 46-49; http://www.missamerica.org
East Tennessee State University