The Love Doctor

updated 08/21/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/21/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

ALONG WITH THE USUAL FRILLS—including flowing gowns, teary parents and "Pomp and Circumstance"—the Georgetown University School of Medicine graduation ceremony on May 27 featured one heavyweight celebrity: boxer Mike Tyson. As the 200 newly minted doctors received their diplomas, few could resist stealing a glance at Tyson, who peered at the stage through tiny opera glasses. Iron Mike, though, had eyes for one graduate alone—Monica Turner, a quiet Washington woman, graceful in her white dress and diamond drop earrings.

For all but hopeless Beauty and the Beast fans, they are an odd couple: Mike Tyson, 29, a high school dropout and ex-con who throws punches for a living, and the demure Turner, 29, who is headed for a career healing children. Yet in the months since Tyson was freed from the Indiana Youth Center after serving three years for the 1991 rape of beauty contestant Desiree Washington, then 18, Turner has been mostly at his side. "Mike's in love," says Rev. Charles Williams, a member of the entourage surrounding Tyson as he trains for his Aug. 19 bout with Peter "Hurricane" McNeeley, 26. "Wherever he goes, she goes."

In the years after his brief failed marriage to actress Robin Givens, Tyson at times looked like the ultimate misogynist. Perhaps it is Turner's strength that has hooked him. She has her own career—she says she plans to begin a pediatrics residency in Georgetown next year—and owns her own house. "They're natural together," says Fareedah Sideeq, the wife of spiritual adviser Muhammed Sideeq, who oversaw Tyson's jailhouse conversion to Islam. "Monica makes him feel like a man, not a money machine."

Even as a teenager at Regina High School in Hyattsville, Md., Turner had ambitions for the wider world, say former teachers at the all-girl Catholic school, which closed in 1989. Turner's father, John, a retired city worker, and mother, Maebell Steele, raised Monica and her half brother Michael Steele, 36, Maebell's son from a previous marriage, in the black, middle-class D.C. neighborhood of Petworth. When Turner announced plans to become a doctor, "I wasn't surprised a bit," says John Wuestman, a onetime assistant principal at Regina. "In a quiet way, I thought she was hungry enough to make it."

Turner worked hard at the University of Virginia, where she majored in psychology, and then at Georgetown. "She was definitely about going to class and learning as much as she could," says Lisa DaCosta, a fellow premed student from the UVA class of 1987. Yet Turner conducted an improbable high-octane social life, keeping company with students who drove fast cars and, says one college acquaintance, "had something going on." In Washington she began dating Eugene Byrd, manager of the Les Nieces nightclub, now defunct, near her home in Petworth. Byrd, 28 years Turner's senior and already married, cut a charismatic figure but was also deeply involved in the drug underworld. Arrested for dealing cocaine in 1989, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail, but not before Turner had given birth to their daughter Gena, now 5. "Monica seemed entranced by him," says Quincy Ollison, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Byrd. "She was there through all the pleas and sentencing."

Just as she was there through Tyson's imprisonment. Turner met the fighter at a party at actor Eddie Murphy's New Jersey house in the late '80s. After his conviction, Turner became a devoted supporter, juggling her premed-school courses to fly to Indiana every two weeks for jailhouse visits, often with Tyson's daughter Mikey, 4, in tow.

Since Tyson's release, Turner has shuttled between her Washington home, Tyson's gated estate in Southington, Ohio, and the mansion he bought last April in Las Vegas, rarely emerging in public except to shop. Among their recent acquisitions: four Bentley cars and a diamond ring that Turner sometimes wears on her left hand, sparking speculation that the pair have already wed. Friends say that hasn't happened yet, but wouldn't rule out a Tyson-Turner match. "I would characterize the feeling between them as one of strong admiration and respect," says Muhammed Sideeq, measuring his words carefully, "with the seeds of all kinds of possibilities."

PATRICK ROGERS, with bureau reports

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