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Geoffrey Turner

Also known as: Geoff.

Picture of Geoffrey Turner .

Geoffrey Vincent Turner
22nd October 1918 – 13th February 2007

A tribute from his children to a man who truly lived a remarkable, full, varied, and fun-filled existence. Dad’s interests, humour and zest for life touched so many others.

Dad died in the Seychelles whilst retracing the route he took around Africa in the Battleship Valiant during 1943. Arriving in Mombassa two weekends earlier he went up Nairobi to visit his youngest grandchildren; he was fit and energetic as usual; articulate on his latest projects and ideas; and interested in the latest goings on of the children despite the 80 plus years age difference.

Dad had this rare gift of making friends from all walks of life and of all ages. Friends of his children, over the years became his friends too - and many of them remember his hospitality (particularly his tolerance of Achabhraid being turned into a temporary youth hostel from time to time), and his sharp enquiring mind – the sentiment most commonly expressed in the messages we received when he died was how interested he was in others’ lives and their opinions.

This was not the feigned interest of someone asking out of politeness or to fill an awkward moment’s lull in the conversation – Dad was overwhelmingly interested in the world around us – its ecology; its history and prehistory; its culture; its geography (which he studied at university and taught in his first job); in music and the arts; in politics, in religion - in the “meaning of life” perhaps.

But he chose not to learn about the world solely from books (although he was an avid reader and collector) but from everyone he met – his friends, acquaintances, people he came across walking or picking up litter on the Ormsary Road; chance conversations in shops in Lochgilphead or Ardrishaig; people he met through the societies he belonged to; and so many other interactions. Those who knew him will recognise this trait of Dad – a combination of a continual search for knowledge coupled with a gregarious nature. Perhaps the true embodiment of a University of Life.

He used to startle our friends, even upon first meeting, rounding on them and saying “you’re an engineer/vet/medical student (delete as appropriate), you’ll know the answer to this question!” – brandishing a quiz, crossword, or perhaps a book that he had been dipping into.

But if they didn’t know, he wouldn’t blame them and give up, just get out the necessary reference book – and when enlightened on the point in question (or perhaps having discovered in his research another unrelated interesting fact) he would share this – like presenting a most precious gift. Dad loved nothing more in other people than finding a common follower of the perpetually enquiring mind.

Dad was a bastion of true correspondence in a world of emails – and took pride in proper expression and grammatical regularity – as the letters his offspring occasionally sent him now testify - with underlining of salient points in red; correction to spelling and grammar meticulously done (although never communicating back to us). He brought the same precision to the editing of Buzz, the parish newsletter, in later years.

Dad always thought deeply about life whilst living it to the full. In the war he first registered for Conscientious Objector status, which he received unconditionally, meaning that he did not to take any part in the war effort. Typically instead he first joined the International Voluntary Service, so that he could do something useful, in his case planting trees in the Lake District; and then when he had a change of heart and decided that he should join up he had to volunteer – making him one of the only people known to have been both a CO and a volunteer.

Dad was a complete storyteller – the tale of HMS Valiant was a family favourite. The ship itself, despite being a veteran of the battle of Jutland, had a reasonably “good war” until the time that Dad joined it as Ordinary Coder. After that its fortunes suffered somewhat – breaking the only Allied dry dock in the Indian Ocean in Ceylon; blocking the all important Suez Canal for a couple of days because their steerage had gone; and finally being ordered to make the perilous trip home round the Horn of Africa (hence his last trip retracing his journey), and so barely firing a shot in anger during his time aboard.

After repairs HMS Valiant was destined for the Pacific arena; Dad maintained that his life was saved by the swift end of the war brought about by the use of the atomic bomb on Japan, something that probably troubled his humanist outlook on life.

Dad’s belief in the power of peace-making extended to our own family life but perhaps suffered from his continued encouragement of his children to think and speak for themselves. One memorable dinner, when Patrick and Adair had been arguing (perhaps it was about the exact definition and implications of Einstein theory [E= mc2]) when Mum went to the kitchen to fetch the next course Dad suggested that when she came back perhaps we should be rationally and carefully discussing a less contentious subject – and proposed that we should talk about rainbows. By the time Mum returned the brothers were standing up on opposite sides of the table trading violent opposite views about the refraction of light!

Dad was a traveller both virtual and actual all his life:

Seventy years ago, in the summer of 1937 ago he set out on his first trip abroad – to Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg with his cousin Russell, “hoping it would not be my last”. A trip meticulously detailed in his first travel journal, a discipline he kept more or less throughout his life, leaving us with a fantastic legacy. The forward includes the following disclaimer:

“Primarily these pages constitute a memoir for my own personal enjoyment; any reflections which seem unorthodox or even distasteful to others’ ears must be laid down to peculiarities in my own nature.”

In the same journal he also gave away a self-awareness which may be used to sum up his life: “My prime objective this day is motion forwards”.

Later in life Dad particular relished the possibilities of his long retirement, once his children had stopped being (too much) a drain on his resources, to travel widely. But there was never an average holiday to an ordinary destination; every trip had cultural or historical significance, a goal, a purpose, to learn more and to experience more. Dad was a tourist only in the first sense of the word in English: those who would take a grand tour in Europe to expand their education.

His regret was that Mum was not with him to share his experiences. He more than once remarked that she had had most of the hard work of “parenting” and none of the later benefits.

However on one of his most adventurous trips, to Kosovo and Albania, shortly after it had opened up to the outside in a limited way, Dad met Beryl who shared his exact tastes and enquiring mind and they subsequently married. The joy this brought him can only have been marred by being bereaved twice in his life. But his attitude, was always to “count ones blessing” to live life to the full – and he certainly achieved that with his continued interest in thing local and foreign, with a zest which would have been unusual in anyone of half his age.

At the times when Dad lived alone, he did not suffer from loneliness, or would admit to himself any melancholy. It was simply not in his nature to look inwardly. There was always a letter (or email) to write; a new project to research; a trip (either to England or much further afield) to plan for; a new recipe to master; an active social life to attend to; a meeting or club to prepare for; a family anniversary to remember.

Dad took life as it came; never let its trials get the better of him; continually looked on the bright side; and imparted to his children and all who met him his enthusiasm for enquiry, learning, and perhaps some measure of understanding – although he was much too modest and tolerant to pretend to have the answers.

Dad is back from his travels, and home in the place he loved best. He’s probably fuming that he wasn’t able to complete his education on Mediterranean culture through the planned visit to Crete, where he had never been. But he would have been the first person to agree that an enquiring and energetic mind needs to have a rest from time to time.

Thank you all for sharing this goodbye.

Added by: Katherine Turner Haig on 5 May 2009.

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