Theirs is a friendship you would never see coming.
One is a dignified businessman in his 90s who is one of the wealthiest people in the state.
One is a concert promoter with a prematurely gray beard who raises chickens, goats and tomatoes and makes his living off of rock ‘n’ roll.
One is a major investor and former board member of Coca-Cola who makes gas grills and enjoys hunting quail.
One is a poker player who grows a garden every summer and is ready to help if one of his aging neighbors takes a fall on the way to get his morning newspaper.
You probably know the story of William B. Turner, but most of you don’t know about his longtime friendship with Mike Blackwell, who brought him fresh vegetables and frequently enjoyed early evening conversations on Mr. Bill’s front porch.
When I heard Mr. Bill had died late Monday night at the age of 94, I thought of the obvious things that he has done for our community and our state, for he was a man who used his money wisely.
His family’s legacy is all around us … on our downtown streets … our local college campus … our churches … our concert stages … our relentless river … our financial institutions … and the vending machines that offer us a pause to refresh.
If you don’t know his story, read Chuck Williams’ far-reaching obituary in Tuesday’s Ledger-Enquirer. It’s a keeper.
But in Mr. Bill’s unexpected friendship with Mike Blackwell we see more than a kind, generous man who all of his life has tried to help the community in which he was born. He was a Servant Leader before the term was tossed around so much.
“He was a delightful, precious man,” says Blackwell, who became his neighbor after Mr. Bill and his late wife Sue Marie moved into a private enclave near St. Paul United Methodist Church. “Whatever was going on around here, he always wanted to do more than his share.”
They first met through Blackwell’s late mother-in-law who for many years worked for the Bradley Company and the Bradley Center. Then in 1980 they sat next to each other as members of the first Charter Review Commission.
Blackwell was friends with Turner’s sons and at one time coached one of his granddaughters’ softball teams. Mr. Bill and his were regulars at the young girl’s softball games. His sons and grandchildren enjoyed going to local concerts and Blackwell remembers Mr. Bill showing up when Willie Nelson was in town.
“He always liked Willie,” Blackwell says.
The two of them grew closer when the Turners quietly invested in property across from the old St. Elmo Shopping Center on Cherokee Avenue. Blackwell and his wife, the former Dianne Garrard, lived nearby in her parents’ old house.
“Before he bought that land I was raising chickens and they roosted in the woods where Mr. Turner eventually built. Animal Control told me I had to get rid of the chickens but they didn’t understand how hard it would be to get rid of them. A dog catcher finally came out and shot them out of the trees,” Blackwell says.
After the Turners moved in, Blackwell told Mr. Bill about that and asked him if he would care if he got some more chickens. “I don’t care, Mike,” he said. “I can’t hear nothing. If the roosters crow, I can’t hear them anyway.”
David Lewis Sr., who long ago was Turner’s roommate at Georgia Tech, also bought a lot there. So did accountant Clyde Fountain and their friend Phil Swift. It was a tight little neighborhood that was built on friendship and affection.
Blackwell became their unofficial caretaker. If a tree fell, he would help. If they needed fresh vegetables and fruit, he was their produce man. When one of them wanted tickets to see Elton John, Blackwell helped. When Fountain took a fall early one morning, the CPA’s wife called Blackwell who came quickly and helped him get inside.
The four families enjoyed each other’s company and ultimately they mourned together. Sue Marie Turner passed away. So did Lewis and then Fountain. Now it’s Mr. Bill.
“I’ll miss him,” says Blackwell, who has been a concert promoter since he was a student at what was then Columbus College. “He would invite me to come down and sit on his porch and enjoy a glass of wine with him. I drank beer, not wine, but he knew that. Our politics were also different, but we enjoyed some wonderful conversations.”
Sometimes he would run up on Turner and another group of friends who gathered on Thursdays at Rose Hill Sea Food. It was high profile Columbus business people from the same generation: Bill Turner, Hooper Turner, John Kinnett, Kyle Spencer and a few others. They had a reserved table in the corner.
One by one by one, the old friends have passed away or have grown too old to drive, A thoughtful Brad Turner began to stop by Rose Hill on Thursdays so he could deliver a plate of fish to his father.
That tradition ends this week for Thursday is the day William B. Turner will be buried in a private service.
Blackwell will miss going on quail hunts and those quiet moments with his neighbor on the porch. More than anything he will miss his friend, not because he was a mover-and-shaker, but because he was just plain Mr. Bill.
There were unspoken motives behind their long-standing friendship. “One day I’m gonna be that old,” Blackwell says, “and I sure hope somebody will look after me.”