“Wild” Bill Turner is a real trooper. Forced to retire from a banking career two decades ago with a bad heart, he’s also lost both feet in separate medical incidents in recent years. That’s the bad news. But Turner has had plenty of good fortune in his life, starting with his wife of 35 years, Linda, and their two children (not to mention four grandkids). Then there’s his foray into sports photography and journalism. Sort of like Forrest Gump, he’s showed up at the right places at the right times.
Turner was the photographer for the Roanoke Express hockey team for years, a hobby that included road trips with the team. Before that he lettered in golf at Andrew Lewis High School, where schoolmates included Charlie Hammersley and Gary Walthall – the president and vice president respectively for the Salem-Roanoke Baseball Hall of Fame.
The Hall honored Bill Turner in late January with the Wayne LaPierre Sr. Baseball Community Service Award, given to him on the same night five more members were inducted for their local contributions to baseball. He accepted the award wearing a garish outfit from Loudmouth Golf, the official clothing company of his regular column in The Roanoke Star, and the pants Bill is noted for wearing at sporting events and appearances for nearly five years. PGA Tour and two-time golf major winner John Daly is sponsored by Loudmouth, and other celebrities, such as Bill Murray, are often seen wearing Loudmouth due to their ostentatious and widely. popular patterns.(The Hall of Famers inducted that same night were Bobby Basham, David Hagan, Jon Hartness, Doug Hepinstall and Rodney Spradlin.)
Bill’s baseball connections include being a dugout photographer at Washington Nationals games in DC, rubbing shoulders in the dugout with Nats players like Ryan Zimmerman. He “stumbled” into that when seeking a one-day press pass to cover a Salem Avalanche road game at old RFK Stadium, when the Potomac Nationals played their annual Single A Carolina League home game there.
The PR people were so enamored with him they offered him that MLB dugout photographer slot, which he took advantage of for six seasons. He recalls a long conversation with then-Nationals broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, as he described attending his first major league game ever when the New York Mets played at the Polo Grounds in 1963. Soon he had a crowd of hardened media types enthralled with his tales.
Many of his pictures appeared in the now-defunct Play By Play magazine and Turner wound up writing nearly 50 features for the monthly sports publication, despite his lack of a journalism background. He also counted how many pictures he took for Play By Play, of sports from rec youth leagues to the professional level – 1244. “I remember my first assignment was volleyball. The next month Play by Play came out and there was my picture. I thought this is really cool. I thought maybe I’d get 50 pictures in Play by Play.” Publisher John Montgomery kept coming back to him and the rest is history as they say.
Turner’s credits include snapping pictures of boxer Evander Holyfield, and at a tennis exhibition between John McEnroe and Pete Sampras. He has also ridden shotgun with NASCAR driver Greg Biffle at Bristol Motor Speedway, shot baseball pictures at the Commonwealth Games and covered inumerable high school events.
I invited Bill Turner to shoot pictures for me while I was the editor of the Cave Spring Connection and Vinton Messenger weekly papers and in 2007 he added the Roanoke Star-Sentinel (now the Roanoke Star) to his resume. “I was really flattered that [publisher] Stuart Revercomb gave me that opportunity,” said Turner.
His long time relationship with Cave Spring High School sports led him to become a good luck charm for two basketball teams led by then-head coach Billy Hicks – who insisted (after Bill had attended 14 Knights wins in a row) that Turner accompany the players on the team bus when they played for – and won – a state championship in 2009. He’s now a volunteer assistant basketball coach for the Knights and sits on the bench.
Congratulations friend on your Wayne LaPierre Sr. Community Service Award from the Hall of Fame. “I’m thrilled,” Turner said over lunch a few days before receiving it – at his favorite joint, The Roanoker Restaurant. “I never expected it in a million years.” Life indeed is a box of chocolates.