Every so often someone comes into your life and leaves a lasting impression, even though you never know them well.
For me, one those people was Paul Edward Turner. Mr. Turner died Nov. 21 at the age of 88, and when a short notice of his passing came through our company email last week, I released an audible sigh.
I only spoke with Mr. Turner a handful of times, but it didn’t take anymore than that to get a feeling for the honorable and special man he was.
I suppose the reason I released a small sigh was partly selfish, because I realized I would never talk with him again. But it was more than that — it was because the world was a better place with him in it.
The last time I saw Mr. Turner was at the Gist Settlement in Highland County. I went there on a warm summer afternoon a few years ago to get information about a historical marker at the settlement’s cemetery that had been stolen, and Mr. Turner went to great lengths to see replaced.
When I arrived at the settlement that day, I met him at the site of a former church on the grounds, which had been vandalized beyond repair. After we toured in the inside of the church, he asked me to hop in his van — with about 10 dogs — and he took me on a tour of the settlement, pointing out places of interest.
I easily could have spent the rest of day with Mr. Turner, listening to tales of old and the settlement’s history, but I had a story to write and a deadline to meet. Before I went on my way, though, he shook my hand and gave me a copy of one of the many books that have been written about the settlement and his efforts to save it.
That summer day at the Gist Settlement was not the first time I met Mr. Turner. He had stopped by The Times-Gazette offices a time or two previously to talk with me about the Gist Settlement — and give me more books — and we had a couple phone conversations.
He had an infectious smile and a welcoming way about him, but it was that chat on a warm summer day when he was in his own element that left me wanting to know more.
This week, I spoke by email with one of his nieces, Jennifer Blair, and told her about my visit on that summer day. I will share some of her words, because I don’t think she would mind, and because it gives you a little more insight into the man Paul Edward Turner was.
“That man loved them animals & had so many! Anytime I brought a friend (from the big city) home with me it was a must to show them Gist Settlement! They were so shocked seeing all the animals! Specially the horses that would come right up to your car window! (We use to give them treats that way),” she wrote.
She also told me the plan is to keep his land, hard work and legacy alive.
That was good to know because it is a remarkable legacy.
Sometime around the early 1800s, Samuel Gist purchased hundreds of acres of land in Southwest Ohio for his more than 200 Virginia slaves. But he failed to provide them with the legal documentation to the land. There were three sites — two in Brown County and one in Highland County. The agreement was that they could live on the land as long as they paid the taxes.
But it was hard to make a living on the land, and it is more than likely that those selected to manage funds Gist left to pay the taxes swindled the money away from those it was intended for.
Mr. Turner was born on that land, and after 26 years in the U.S. Navy, where he served time in Vietnam and obtained the rank of master chief, he returned to the Highland County Gist Settlement. He found that foreclosure on the property was pending, and he spent the rest of life — and tens of thousands of his own dollars — to see that it stayed in the hands of those it was meant for.
About three years ago, he was finally granted a title to the majority of the land.
Mr. Turner had a deep love of that land and an even deeper respect for those who lived there before him. After a lifetime of battles, sweat and tears, he was finally granted what his ancestors deserved long ago.
I did not know Mr. Turner very well. But I learned all I needed to know on a warm summer day a few years ago. It was easy to tell he was a gracious man, compassionate, fun and easy to be around, and cared deeply for those that made him the man he was. He served his country and was not afraid to stand up for what is right.
You fought well, Mr. Turner. Consider your battle won.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.