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Brian Turner, writer, cartoonist, researcher, and educator, dies at 71


Brian Turner, writer, cartoonist, researcher, and educator, dies at 71


Brian W. Turner, 71, a longtime resident of Florence, MA, and writing instructor at Smith College, passed away on January 31 after an extended battle with cancer. He was retired from the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching, and Learning at Smith College, where he taught introductory writing courses and worked with students individually to improve their writing for more than 30 years.


Brian was a prolific writer who worked diligently on his novels, articles, books, and research projects right up to the weeks before his death. He was also an extraordinary cartoonist, whose Renrut’s World graphic tales followed the arc of his life with his trademark savvy and self-deprecating wit. A collection of his cartoon stories is currently being prepared for publication.


One of a handful of baseball historians who research and document the early history of the sport, Brian was frequently published in The National Pastime and Base Ball: Journal of the Early Game, where his last article will appear posthumously. With John S. Bowman of Northampton, Brian co-authored The Hurrah Game, a companion book to an exhibit at Historic Northampton, and “The Florence Eagles Base Ball Club,” an authoritative entry into the book, Baseball Founders. In addition, he penned the encyclopedia entry, “Luther B. Askin,” for The African American National Biography following his discovery of the world’s earliest-known integrated baseball team, the Florence Eagles. Brian was an active and respected member of the Society for American Baseball Research.


A graduate of Classical High School and American International College in Springfield, Brian also earned an MFA in English with emphasis in fiction writing at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, where he taught a cartoon art workshop and “Writing About Film” for the Rhetoric Program. Both subjects were to play a large role in his life, both professionally and personally. He had a vast knowledge of American and foreign films, and was known for his elaborate Oscar parties, where he typically chose a preponderance of the award-winners and took custody of the “King of Hollywood” crown and a tattered Hollywood Babylon paperback.



After college, Brian purchased a Springfield Newspapers delivery truck with which to put his cartoon business on the road. The truck was a bust, but he traveled instead to the U.K. and India, where, as Renrut Novelties, he sold sardonic greeting cards featuring his cartoons. Thus began a lifelong passion for travel — to England, Greece, Morocco, France, Australia, New Zealand, and more. From his earliest days of backpacking, Brian made an impression on fellow travelers, many of whom remained close friends for life. Brian was as diligent in keeping in touch with friends throughout the U.S. and across the world as he was at other endeavors. Friends recall his kindness, his penchant for satire, his quirky sense of humor, and his strong moral compass.


In the late 1970s, Brian became a well-known figure in Northampton’s cultural renaissance. In 1979, he co-founded SCAT Comics Gazette, which featured his art and was “promoted” with the slogan, “Don’t you have anything better to do than read SCAT?” He was a co-founder of the Pioneer Valley Graphics Guild in 1976 as well as a partner and then sole proprietor of Graphics Guild through 1986. During this time, his cartoons were used on Virgin records gift tokens, book covers and illustrations; and were widely distributed in publications, locally (SCAT, Valley Advocate, Oh No No Ho, VMag); regionally and nationally (Cozmic Comix, Time Out, Sportscope magazine, Perkins Press magazines, Boston University’s Z magazine); and abroad (the Netherlands’ Tante Leny, India’s Indian Express newspaper, Transitions Abroad). A number of his short stories were published during this time in Northwest Review and other literary magazines.


A former board member and researcher for the Florence History Project, Brian retained a keen interest in local history throughout his life. His historical research and writing were published in VMAG, Hampshire Life, Daily Hampshire Gazette, and Downstreet.net.


At the time of his death, Brian was working, again with John Bowman, on a book about the former Round Hill School in Northampton. During his extensive research of the school—its founders, competitors, and students—he discovered and transcribed some historically significant documents that will be offered and hopefully placed into appropriate literary collections. He was working also on the final drafts of two novels and several collections of travel notes.


Born in Springfield, MA to William W. and Nathalie (Smith) Turner, Brian was predeceased by his parents and his sister, Jill Turner. He is survived by brothers Guy Turner and wife Jennifer of Danbury, NC, and Ward Turner and wife Stacey D’Amico of East Bridgewater, MA; by his sister Kyle Turner of Los Angeles, CA; by nieces and nephews in California, Florida, Massachusetts Missouri, and Pennsylvania; and by his partner, Marsha Montori. He is also survived by his closest lifelong friend, Robert Pasteris of Northfield, MA, whom he had known, basically, from birth, and his wife Sue Pasteris; and by many heartbroken friends who will miss his humor, wise counsel and strong bias and support for liberal causes. He was an exceptionally caring brother and uncle who will be sadly missed by his family.


A memorial gathering will be held in the spring, as weather permits. Donations can be made to the David Ruggles Center for History & Education, Box 60405, Florence, MA 01060. Williamsburg Funeral Home was entrusted with his cremation www.HampshireCremation.com

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