In April, I wrote about longtime Hillsborough resident and News of Orange subscriber Staff Sergeant Walter Bryan Turner. I joked that a person could set their clock by Turner’s monthly Letter To the Editor in the newspaper.
Since that story published, I’d seen only one letter from Turner, who was 95-years-old. I had a question about something in the letter, and I had emailed Turner’s daughter, Cindy Williams, for clarification. Ultimately, by the time I received an answer to my question, the letter seemed untimely and irrelevant, so it was not printed.
Weeks went by, and I had not heard from Staff Sergeant Turner. I emailed Cindy to ask if everything was OK, if he might have been upset that I didn’t print his previous letter. Turner’s letters always came by email from his daughter, Cindy. She and I had developed a connection, and she often wrote me asking if her dad’s letter had run in the paper, and expressed his appreciation for the News of Orange
Cindy emailed me back late to say her dad’s health had declined since taking a fall and breaking his elbow. Staff Sergeant Turner was a cancer survivor, but his body was dealing with that again, too. Cindy followed up her email a couple of days later, saying her dad had passed away.
When I first started at the paper, Adam Powell, who filled the gap between editors, warned me I would receive “a lot of letters” from Staff Sergeant Bryan Turner. And then, he said, “you’ll get complaints about his letters.”
That was true. I received two letters a month for a while, each railing about Democrats, the potential rise of socialism, President Trump being a strong president, and his belief that many of the country’s woes could be attributed to it being less religious. He almost always mentioned that he was once a Democrat, that he and his late wife were hard workers who never asked for anything.
The Commentary page in the News of Orange is the thorniest. The content, headlines, guidelines are all fraught with peril. I know I haven’t always made the best decisions with regard to that page. One of the first changes I made was to limit the number of times a person could send in a letter to the editor from twice a month to once. (We’ll call it the Staff Sergeant Turner Rule.)
I did this because each time one of Turner’s letters ran, I would be inundated with calls, emails, and other letters about his letter. I reached out to Turner’s daughter, who politely acknowledged the change and said she understood.
I received almost-monthly calls from Staff Sergeant Turner, to ask if I received his letter, or if it was printed. He was courteous and appreciative. He would sometimes laugh about rebuttals to his letters, but never in a rude way. “Looks like my letter got some folks riled up,” he would say. But that was as close to negative as he came.
Staff Sergeant Turner’s letter also had fans. I one day received a letter from someone who said she appreciated his opinions, and said I should interview Turner, and that he sold vacuum cleaners door-to-door for many years.
I emailed Cindy about the idea and she said her dad was excited to participate. My only request was that we not discuss politics. She said they spent hours looking through photos and recalling memories. When I finally met him in person, he was clear, witty, and proud of his family, his service, and his career. I was happy to profile someone from a less-expected angle, and show characteristics of a person — his dedication to his family, generosity to others, and ability to be friendly with anyone — that are more common in this and other communities.
Thank you, Staff Sergeant Bryan Turner for your service, and thank you for your letters.
Funeral service details are on the Clements Funeral Services website.