A few hundred words can’t do justice to any life well lived. There’s probably no number or combination that could do justice to Bill Turner’s.
William Bradley Turner, third-generation heir of what could credibly be called the First Family of 20th century Columbus, died Monday at 94 after a life so well lived that a whole city and region are richer, in every sense, for his mostly quiet, often anonymous, but profound influences on it.
Turner was born into enormous wealth and privilege. But the “privilege” part of the scenario was, almost from childhood, far less a part of his life and priorities than responsibility and service.
His famous grandfather W.C. Bradley’s now well-known birthday letter to Turner as a little boy urged him “to commence thinking about the important things of life and endeavor in every possible way to become worthy of the great responsibilities that will be yours in years to come.” Decades later a 76-year-old Bill Turner would recall wryly, “That’s pretty hot water for an 8-year-old.”
Turner served as a Navy officer in World War II, and in 1953 would become CEO of the Bradley Company. Over his many years as a business leader, Turner would be a major, though frequently uncredited, force in transforming the city from its mill town roots and image to a retail, real estate and financial services center. He was a major player in Columbus State University’s downtown presence, which has done more to revitalize the original central city than any other single change.
At least as important, Turner established, with his sisters Sarah Turner Butler and Elizabeth Turner Corn, the Bradley-Turner Foundation, surely among the most generous and impactful philanthropic organizations of its kind anywhere.
Turner spoke of being driven by his fear of failure, but said in a 1972 speech at Brookstone (itself a beneficiary of Turner generosity) that “failure is one of the greatest learning experiences that a person can have.”
He would later say a sense of “brokenness,” and the humility if forces upon us, was one of the guiding principles behind his commitment to servant leadership, undoubtedly the most significant intangible value this community associates with Bill Turner.
Turner taught Sunday School at St. Luke Methodist Church for 60 years, was a founder (and funder) of the Metro Columbus Urban League, and was the driving force behind the Columbus Challenge, a community giving effort that produced not only the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts and the restoration of the Springer and the Liberty, but multiple endowments. The Bradley Center and the Pastoral Institute, which have provided substance abuse and mental health services to countless people, are also among the many Bradley-Turner legacies.
Ron King, retired president of the Pastoral Institute, offered an especially fitting epitaph: “He could have been doing anything he wanted to, and he was right here, thinking every day about how to make this a better community for everybody that lives here.”
Well done, good and faithful servant.