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‘The guy we could count on’: Williamsburg remembers highway superintendent Bill Turner

  • Bill Turner, the Williamsburg highway chief who died Nov. 11, is shown in this undated photo. SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 11/25/2019 4:55:57 PM

WILLIAMSBURG — For years, lifelong resident and longtime highway superintendent Bill Turner was known as the “go-to guy” in Williamsburg, always ready to lend a hand when there was work to be done or to offer his advice and support to colleagues, friends and family.

Born to parents Lois M. (Nehring) Turner and Richard H. Turner, Sr., Bill Turner died Nov. 11 at age 62 after a battle with cancer, leaving a sad and very noticeable void in town, according to those who knew him. 

“Bill was involved in everything,” Town Clerk Brenda Lessard said. “Even on issues that were not about the highway, I could always call him for help.”

Turner served as the highway superintendent for more than 20 years.

Throughout his life, he also served on the town’s Conservation Commission, was chairman of the Williamsburg Water and Sewer Commission, and served as the town’s tree warden and dog officer.

“Bill Turner was a jack-of-all-trades,” Select Board member Denise Banister said. “He was a very reliable resource. If something needed to be done, he was the guy we could count on.”

Nick Dines, Williamsburg landscape architect and former director of the landscape architecture graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, said that Turner was involved in the construction of the Williamsburg public garden Angel Park as well as the veterans memorial.

“We worked together on many projects, and I really valued his leadership, professionalism and his command of different construction and engineering methods,” Dines said.

Gaby Immerman, chairwoman of the Williamsburg Mill River Greenway Committee, often worked with Turner in conjunction with the Mill River Greenway project.

“Bill held so much of the town’s practical and infrastructural knowledge in his head, it is hard to imagine how Burgy will carry on without him,” Immerman said. “To do his job required expertise in a seemingly endless array of skills and subjects, and he did his job supremely well.”

While dedicated to his work life, Turner also had a fun and a philanthropic side.

Banister recalled that he and his wife, Deb Turner, loved to ride his motorcycle and that they often turned this hobby into an opportunity to raise money for various charities.

“They were gracious hosts and very community-minded people,” Banister said. “He and Deb used to plan motorcycle rides, then afterward have a barbeque fundraiser for different things, like ALS” (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Turner was also active in the Western Mass 4-H Ox Teamsters and the Goshen Highlanders Snowmobile Club.

Former Williamsburg Fire Chief and Turner’s brother-in-law, Don Lawton, described Turner as a family man who liked to stay busy, working and doing a variety of projects on his land.

“He enjoyed being with his granddaughter and being at home with his family,” Lawton said. “He liked animals and used to have quite a few cows, and he did haying and maple sugaring.”

Lawton added that Turner was a hands-on sort of person who enjoyed activities like restoring an old and dilapidated sugarhouse and turning it into a functional and attractive building.

“Everybody in town knew him and spoke highly of him,” Lawton said.

According to his wife, Deb, Turner also built their home over 20 years ago after purchasing property on the Lawton Farm and clearing the land.

“He wanted to do it himself, so we designed the house and it was built by us and our friends,” she said.

Turner said that her husband had been diagnosed with melanoma over 30 years ago and was successfully treated. Five years ago, however, cancer returned, and though he received chemotherapy, it eventually spread.

“They treated it with an experimental trial at Mass General Hospital; then they found out that the trial affected his kidneys, and they got really bad,” she said.

With treatment, Turner tried to carry on a normal life, even once taking a dialysis machine on a camping trip, an activity that he and Deb loved to do together and with friends.

He died surrounded by his loved ones.

“It was peaceful — he was home right where he wanted to be,” Deb Turner said. “He was with me, his sisters were here, and so was our daughter and granddaughter, right up until the last minute.”

Turner is remembered as a talented, hardworking, do-it-yourself, community-minded man who embraced life with gusto and good humor.

“He was so full of life, and he had the greatest laugh — I loved his laugh,” Lessard said. “I am honored to have called him a friend.”

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