Turner, retired Tampa Electric VP and 'luckiest guy ever,' dead at 90

TAMPA — Each week for half a century, you could find Heywood Axtell Turner Jr. holding court at the Columbia Restaurant with the Ybor City Rotary Club, eventually as its president.5 Months Ago8 Months Ago6 Months AgoHe once went 23 years without missing...

Turner, retired Tampa Electric VP and 'luckiest guy ever,' dead at 90

TAMPA — Each week for half a century, you could find Heywood Axtell Turner Jr. holding court at the Columbia Restaurant with the Ybor City Rotary Club, eventually as its president.

5 Months Ago

8 Months Ago

6 Months Ago

He once went 23 years without missing a meeting.

Mr. Turner threw himself into everything he did, family and friends said, with both the Navy and the Army, in more than four decades as an engineer and mentor at Tampa Electric Co,, and as a father and grandfather.

"He had this huge heart," said his daughter-in-law, Gay Turner, 52, of Odessa, who considered her father-in-law and his late wife Mary Louise a second set of parents. "If he could do it, he would."

Mr. Turner, who had suffered from cancer, died Feb. 17. He was 90.

He was 10 when his family moved to Tampa from Virginia. He lettered in a number of sports and graduated as salutatorian of Hillsborough High School's class of 1944. He was elected to the school's Alumni Hall of Fame 50 years after his graduation.

The Navy sent him to Duke and the University of Louisville for engineering and he played college baseball before returning to Tampa and taking a job at Tampa Electric Co. as an oiler. He worked the midnight shift at the Peter O'Knight station on the Hillsborough River downtown, later home of the Tampa Tribune.

"Back then, you got a job and you kept it," said Judy Chambliss of South Tampa, 78, who spent 12 years as Mr. Turner's executive assistant and became a close friend of the family.

Forty-two years later, in 1989, Mr. Turner retired from Tampa Electric Co. as senior vice president of production. Some 600 people attended the ceremony.

He had entered the management track after receiving his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and returning in 1955 from a second military term, this time in the Army. Every position he held thereafter with the utility was created specifically for him.

"He was a real stickler for spelling and grammar," said former Tampa Electric Co. president John Ramil, 61, who worked with Turner 30 years. "If you sent him a memo, you were extra careful to make sure it was just right."

Mr. Turner's focus on writing ran in the family: His father and brother both worked for a time at the Tribune, dad as a typesetter and brother Bob as a columnist.

Outside work, Mr. Turner served with the Rotary Club, on the board of the Life Enrichment Center of Tampa, and as a deacon at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church.

Somehow, he never missed a moment in the lives of his five grandchildren. Some of the boys also played baseball and the oldest became a Tampa Electric Co. engineer.

"The boys could not get enough of their grandfather; he had so many funny lines," said Gay Turner. "His very favorite was that he was an old broke-down baseball player."

In 2015, at 89, Mr. Turner self-published a book, The Luckiest Guy Who Ever Walked the Face of the Earth, with the help of a biographer and the many articles and photos he gathered through his life.

Said Ramil, "Heywood referred to himself as the luckiest guy around. But the people who had him as a teacher, mentor, coach and friend to everybody — we were the lucky ones."

Contact Libby Baldwin at lbaldwin@tampabay,com. Follow her at @LibBaldwin

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