Ted Turner’s Dad’s Letter about Ted’s Major


My dear son,

I am appalled, even horrified, that you have adopted Classics as a major. As a matter of fact, I almost puked on the way home today. I suppose that I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the purpose of an education is to enable one to develop a community of interest with his fellow men, to learn to know them, and to learn how to get along with them. In order to do this, of course, he must learn what motivates them, and how to impel them to be pleased with his objectives and desires.

I am a practical man, and for the life of me I cannot possibly understand why you should wish to speak Greek. With whom will you communicate in Greek? I have read, in recent years, the deliberations of Plato and Aristotle, and was interested to learn that the old bastards had minds which worked very similarly to the way our minds work today. I was amazed that they had so much time for deliberating and thinking, and was interested in the kind of civilization that would permit such useless deliberation….

I suppose everybody has to be a snob of some sort, and I suppose you will feel that you are distinguishing yourself from the herd by becoming a Classical snob. I can see you drifting into a bar, belting down a few, turning around to the guy on the stool next to you—a contemporary billboard baron form Podunk, Iowa—and saying, “Well, what do you think about old Leonidas?” Your friend, the billboard baron, will turn to you and say, “Leonidas who?” You will turn to him and say, “Why Leonidas, the prominent Greek of the Twelfth Century.” He will, in turn, say to you, “Well, who in the hell was he?” You will say, “Oh, you don’t know about Leonidas?” and dismiss him, and not discuss anything else with him the rest of the evening. He will feel that he is a clodhopper from Podunk, Iowa. I suppose this will make you both happy, and as a result of it, you will wind up buying his billboard plant.

There is no question but this type of useless information will distinguish you, set you apart from the doers of the world. If I leave you enough money, you can retire to an ivory tower, and contemplate for the rest of your days the influence that the hieroglyphics of prehistoric man had upon the writings of William Faulkner….

It isn’t really important what I think. It’s important what you wish to do with your life. I just wish I could feel that the influence of those oddball professors and the ivory towers were developing you into the kind of a man we can both be proud of. I am quite sure that we both will be pleased and delighted when I introduce you to some friend of mine and say, “This is my son. He speaks Greek.”…

If you are going to stay on at Brown, and be a professor of Classics, the courses you have adopted will suit you for a lifetime association with Gale Noyes. Perhaps he will even teach you to make jelly. In my opinion, it won’t do much to help you learn to get along with people in this world. I think you are rapidly becoming a jackass, and the sooner you get out of that filthy atmosphere, the better it will suit me.

Oh, I know everybody says that a college education is a must. Well, I console myslef by saying that everybody said the world was square, except Columbus. You go ahead and go with the world, and I’ll go it alone.

I hope I am right. You are in the hands of the Philistines, and dammit, I sent you there. I am sorry.

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  • JamesG

    Harsh, but considering how Ted Turner has treated people to whom he feels superior, I guess the apple doesn’t really fall as far from the tree as his father seems to have thought.

  • MatthewS

    “I just wish I could feel that the influence of those oddball professors and the ivory towers were developing you into the kind of a man we can both be proud of. ”

    It tends to wound a young man deeply if he realizes his father will never see him as a man.

  • Rob

    If I’ve ever judged Ted Turner in my heart or with my mouth, I hereby apologize. Everyone has a story. Ted’s explains a lot about why he is who ihe is today. Makes me want to pray for him.

  • Fred Kratz

    Ted Turner’s proudest accomplishments are his family, CNN and the Turner Foundation. He’s given a billion dollars to the United Nations and continues his philanthropy in order to eliminate nuclear weapons, help solve human poverty and overpopulation and work on his many environmental causes. He is the largest individual landowner in the USA. He has achieved more in his life, risked more, and lost more than most. And he catches trout with a fly rod. Why would anyone feel sorry for this man or find the need to pray for him? America should be proud of his many accomplishments.

  • Matt

    Because, Fred, if anyone’s father talks to him like that, it’s almost a given that that person is hurting.

  • The letter seems self-contradictory. Turner says education is to help you develop a community of interest with your fellow-man, to learn how to know them and get along with them. He also says that Plato and Aristotle had minds which work very similarly to ours. And then he says that studying them (which requires learning Greek) will divorce his son from the community of interest of his fellow-man for the sake of an “ivory tower.”

    But according to what he just said, learning Plato and Aristotle should help his son understand his fellow-man, because they had minds which work like our own!

  • Tim

    According to Wikipedia, he actually ended up changing his major to economics later on (although he got expelled shortly before graduation).

  • Fred Kratz

    Matt- Ted Turner’s father was an abusive man and an alcoholic. He committed suicide when Ted Turner was in his 20’s. So he threw himself into his work and felt he could either get on with life, or wallow in misery.

    I’ve got an old friend who’s worked for Turner at his Flying D Ranch outside of Bozeman, MT for over 20 years as a fishing guide/fisheries manager. He would attest to the fact that not only would Ted Turner not want anyone praying for him, he would get a big chuckle if someone did.

    I really doubt if that letter meant much for long. This man is a forward thinker and mover and will absolutely never let any past crisis slow him down much. Even at 70, he is a dynamo.

  • MatthewS

    And yet, Ted has been a driven man who ascended the heights in the business world and has been very rude to many people along the way. He is certainly a very bright, energetic, successful forward thinker but those things can be used to mask or numb a wounded soul.

    Completely apart from that, the opinion expressed against the Classics is not uncommon but it is unfortunate.

  • Scott Gay

    On May 18, 2012 the City Club of Cleveland awarded the “Citadel of Free Speech” award for the 4th time in it’s 100 year history to “Call me Ted”(his autobography) Robert Edward “Ted” Turner III. (The previous three were Andrew Young, John Glenn, and Antonin Scalia).
    During the traditional question and answer period more than several very interesting things transpired. He said he could read by the age of 31/2. At the age 4 Ted was sent to boarding school because of his father and mother having problems taking him with them to a Naval base in California. He said at that time he memorized thousands of verses of poetry, because after reading “The Count of Monte Christo” he believed he could be locked in a dark dungeon without any reading or contact. At the age of 9 he was sent to military school where he remained until his graduation. At that City Club he stated that he feels he still suffers from abandonment.
    When asked 45 minutes later who influenced him the most he said his father. But not in business. He said his father had no social instinct. But the influencial aspect was over goal setting. His father told him that he had set his goals too low. His major goals were to become a millionaire, own a yacht, and own a plantation. He was a multi-millionaire, yacht owner and 1000 acre land owner in South Carolina by the age of 50 and committed suicide. So at that time Ted had decided to set his goals so high by that time that he could never accopmplish them. His goal is to save the world.
    You can make alot of negative inferences from the above as a Christian, but I want to say that Ted Turner is an extremely interesting, engaging, intelligent, humorous, influencial, rational, team player. And his views are in synch with many a Christian. Not all, of course, but especially with those that are most foward thinking. Most importantly, he is a frontier expounder. The dignity and autonomy of free personhood(emphasis today on women), the affirmation of the goodness of life in this world(sustainability), and the awareness of the reality that change and process are real(hope).

  • Duane

    This letter is not for real, is it? Surely a spoof. Surely not even Ted Turner Sr is that callous, especially toward a child.

  • Duane

    Oops–I just got it!

  • Luke

    I actually thought it was satire until I read the comments. It’s so well written for an angry rant from a disapproving father.