John Maxwell Turner, OBE, 1937-2008

October 30, 2008

John Maxwell Turner, OBE, long-serving vice-principal of what is now Writtle College, has died.

Mr Turner was born in Huddersfield on 5 June 1937 to Dorothy and Max Duncan Turner, an architect. He was educated at the primary school in the village of Shepley, Penistone Grammar School and then the University of Leeds, where he gained a BSc in agriculture. He was also student president of the Leeds University Agricultural Society.

After graduating from Leeds in 1961, Mr Turner took up the post of lecturer in dairy husbandry and assistant warden at the Essex Institute of Agriculture (now Writtle College), located in the village of Writtle, two miles from Chelmsford. He soon moved away from teaching to concentrate on administration, becoming senior warden and bursar in 1966. This gave him responsibility for accommodation, catering and welfare - indeed for every non-educational aspect of "the student experience" in a largely residential college. Single at the start of his career, he lived on site for ten years and then on the college estate.

In 1976, Mr Turner was promoted to vice-principal. When members of the Shuttleworth Trust asked Writtle College to reinstate teaching at Shuttleworth College, it was Mr Turner who ensured a smooth transition and a successful merger that built a strong sense of a single institution spread across two separate campuses.

He was also very involved in maintaining good relations with the 2,000-strong village of Writtle.

He helped to found Heritage Writtle and later became its secretary. He played an enthusiastic part in excavations and co-authored the group's first booklet, Historic Writtle - The Romans (now dedicated to his memory).

When Mr Turner was awarded the OBE in 1996, he was already the longest-serving vice-principal in Essex, and also in any English agricultural college. His varied interests included painting, skiing, caravanning and sailing. Yet even after his retirement in 2001, he remained very close to the college, continuing to play an active role in the Old Students' Association.

John Roberts, former head of business management at Writtle College, remembers "a genuinely nice guy, a true English gentleman and a friend to us all". As well as being a first-rate administrator with excellent communications and diplomatic skills, he was "very student-oriented and paternal in the best sense. He was always immaculately dressed, and very meticulous, so whatever he planned ran very smoothly". In acting as "welder of the student community, he gave the college its identity, striking the right balance between work, sport and play".

Mr Turner died on 18 September. He is survived by his wife, Margot, and their children Mark and Sally.

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