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Former phi­losophy pro­fessor Donald Turner, who died on Nov. 21, is remem­bered by stu­dents and col­leagues as a caring indi­vidual. External Affairs | Courtesy

Last Sat­urday, I sat beside my husband in a pew at the Hillsdale Free Methodist Church lis­tening to a series of eulogies for Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy Donald A. Turner, who passed away Nov. 21, 2018. Few of our current stu­dents will remember Turner, who retired in early 2015, but from a colleague’s per­spective, Don’s retirement left a void that will never be filled.

Para­dox­i­cally, though, as I sat in that pew reflecting on the irreparable nature of our loss, I found myself thinking of another remarkable scholar, Samuel Johnson, who died Dec. 13, 1784. I never “knew” Johnson, but he lives in the pages of the lit­er­ature I teach and in the mag­nif­icent biog­raphy com­posed by his friend James Boswell. (The power of Johnson’s words to convey a sense of his char­acter is sug­gested by the fact that Jane Austen, who never met him, referred to him as “[her] dear Dr. Johnson.”)

Thanks to Boswell, we know that, like Turner, Johnson was often the first to a party and the last to leave. We know that, like our col­league, Johnson was wakeful through the wee hours of the morning: reading, writing, or preferably talking with friends — reluctant to sac­rifice the plea­sures of con­sciousness to sleep. We know that, like Don, Johnson was capable of engaging the greatest minds of his age in friendly argument — Edmund Burke sat at his bedside in Johnson’s final illness — but was also gentle and approachable to children, a pro­tector of the weak and wounded. Indeed, like friends of Johnson, friends of Turner encoun­tered a gen­erosity of spirit so great that you mar­veled to find his heart more capa­cious than his mind. But unlike Johnson, who could be drawn into debate to the point of “talking for victory,” I never knew Don to talk for any­thing but the joy of exchanging ideas and pur­suing truth. Johnson’s diary and his close friends attest to the depth of his faith in Christ, just as the service for Don showed that his life was a con­tinuous act of Christian witness.

When Johnson died, one of his friends remarked: “He has made a chasm, which not only nothing can fill up, but which nothing has a ten­dency to fill up. — Johnson is dead. — Let us go to the next best: — there is nobody; — no man can be said to put you in mind of Johnson.” The same can be said of Donald Turner. But I have no wish to correct Boswell’s friend by insisting, “Don Turner reminds me of Dr. Johnson!” No, as Pro­fessor of Phi­losophy and Culture Peter Blum remarked last Sat­urday, there was some­thing in Don Turner’s char­acter that put you in mind of Jesus, and that is really all that needs to be said.

Lor­raine Murphy is an Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of English at Hillsdale College. 

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