Proud Veteran. Adaptable Risk-Taker. Focused.

photo by Justin Barr

By Diane Kline

As a little girl, Barbara Turkington idolized her father; in fact, it’s an adoration that still endures. One of seven children, she credits her father, James Bartley, for being a strong role model who shaped her thinking and behavior, while pushing her to excel.

Following in his footsteps, Turkington joined the Air Force, where she spent 20 years and reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. She was stationed around the world, from Germany to Guam, and while serving at Andrews Air Force Base, she interacted with President George H. W. Bush.

Turkington calls herself a “serial retire-er” who has had multiple careers following her military service. She created Media Link, a public relations and marketing firm, and after that, she was co-owner of Newco Flooring Systems. Then, she turned to the nonprofit field, first as executive director of OASIS, and for the last six years, as assistant director for advancement at the St. Louis County Library.

She and William, her husband of 29 years, met when they were both stationed in Washington, D.C. They’ve raised two sons, who are now in their 40s.

Turkington is a risk-taker whose decisions have taught her many lessons, some of which she freely discusses below.

Appreciate where you are and what you have to do.

Just two days after graduating from college – while I was waiting to get into the Air Force Officer Training School – my father said, “Are you planning on working? Hardee’s is hiring.” So, I got a job making French fries. My dad told me, “When they find out about your education, they might put you in hamburgers.” I can always get a job because I’ve got skills!

If you keep your mouth shut, do your job and don’t kill anybody…they’ll make you captain.

My father taught me how to succeed in the military. And following his advice, I actually made captain. When that happened, he said, “You’re operating two octaves above your potential. Keep working!” I ended up retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Women in the Air Force had a hard time.

In those days, women comprised only 2 percent of the Air Force, and they were limited mostly to “female” jobs in education, training or logistics. You couldn’t have children, and if you became pregnant, you were forced to leave the service. The sexism didn’t faze me, though, because as an African American woman, I knew intrinsically that life wasn’t going to give me anything more than I had seen.

Work for the “A.”

In fifth grade, I thought I deserved an A on a test, but I got a B+ instead. I was upset, but my father explained, “You don’t always get what you perceive you deserve. People won’t give you your due. But you still need to work for the A.”

There’s always somebody faster, prettier and smarter.

Set your own goals and stay on your own path, because there’s enough success for everyone. It’s important to find a “supporter” to help you. While a mentor will review your resume or give you career advice, a supporter is somebody who goes to the mat for you. A supporter says, “Hire this person. She’s the one you need. Pick her!”

Women are stuck in the Prom Syndrome.

We’re always waiting to be picked – for the prom, for a job or for a promotion. Then once a woman gets chosen, she often doesn’t care about the others. In my Officer Training Class of 27 women, we really understood that if one of us did well, she’d help other women get ahead.

The hardest words to say are “I’m sorry.”

Every morning, I meditate and pray to God that I will do no harm to anybody. Yet, a rite of getting older is that I can say what’s really on my mind. Make no mistake of that. So, if I do hurt somebody, I now have the capacity to say I’m sorry and mean it.

The fact that you don’t like me doesn’t affect me

If somebody likes me or doesn’t like me, it won’t change who I am. I believe in allowing people to be who they are, as long as they don’t interfere with my life. People can take your money and your time, but you don’t have to give them your head or heart.