William L. Turner, an associate professor emeritus of English at the University, died of cardiovascular disease at a retirement community in Washington, D.C., March 12. He was 99.
Remembered for his bright personality and his devotion to students, Turner joined the English department in 1941. He later served as assistant dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences before retiring in 1976.
“He was all about life,” Robert Combs, a professor of English who was close friends with Turner and his family for many years, said. “I never heard him disparage anyone or rain on anyone’s parade.”
Turner worked at GW for 24 years, and his relationship with the University continued well after his retirement.
English professor David McAleavey said Turner’s time in CCAS was characterized by an obvious devotion to students.
“He was always a welcoming, supportive presence, if quite modest,” McAleavey said.
While serving as assistant dean, one of Turner’s advisees was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who graduated from the University in 1951.
“She would arrive for her advising sessions in a chauffeur-driven car,” Combs said of the future first lady.
While he considered Turner “a colorful, adventurous guy,” Combs also said “he had a tough life.”
Turner’s wife, Marie Louise Ralph Turner, died in 1962 just 15 years into their marriage, leaving Turner to raise three sons on his own. One son, Bill Turner, couldn’t be reached for comment.
As a retiree, Turner founded the GW Faculty Club and the Society of the Emeriti, and he volunteered as a docent for more than a decade at the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens, and the National Cathedral.
Ormond Seavey, a fellow English professor who shared an office with Turner until his retirement, said Turner was “an intelligent reader of many things and a gentleman.”
“He perfectly embodied an ideal of college teaching in his era,” Seavey said.