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Member Spotlight - Yankee Quill Recipient Robert Turner
52nd Annual Yankee Quill Awards
Robert Turner, Boston Globe
When Robert Turner caught the newspaper bug at age 15, there was no way he could have known it would lead to a distinguished career at the Boston Globe spanning 43 years and encompassing roles ranging from State House bureau chief to columnist to deputy editorial page editor. Nor could he have known that he would transition smoothly in 2007 from his journalistic home to the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston to take on a new type of work and contribute to the community in a different way. At the McCormack School, Bob helped develop the Commonwealth Compact, an initiative dedicated to making the city and state diverse places to live and work. He served as co-director of the Commonwealth Compact until 2011 and now is senior advisor.
As a student at Brooks School in North Andover, Mass., Bob was introduced to the world of newspapers by classmate Jonathan Bingham, whose family owned the Louisville (Ky.) Courier-Journal for many years. He gained some experience by working on the Brooks student newspaper before going on to Columbia University.
While taking a break from his studies, he spent a year as a copy boy at the Globe. It was perhaps then that his career was actually launched. He returned as a summer intern and after graduating from Columbia was hired by the Globe as a general assignment reporter. Over the next four decades, he held a variety of positions, moving from metro reporter to State House bureau chief for two stints to assistant city editor to op-ed columnist for 15 years. In 1994, he became chief editorial writer and in 2000 was named deputy editorial page editor.
A 43-year career produces numerous highlights, but at the top of Bob’s list are: being sued for libel by Gov. Ed King in 1982 (the case was thrown out of court); being part of investigations that shortened the careers of Senate President Kevin Harrington and Judge Jerome Patrick Troy; writing a 1981 Globe magazine piece, “Governing from the Bench,” which won the Clarion Award and was used as course material at Harvard Law School for several years, and writing his “Hidden Winners and Losers” column after each election.
When he arrived at the Globe, Bob became fascinated with politics and intrigued by examples of government not functioning well in Massachusetts and requiring the courts to step in. Among those examples were the Boston Harbor cleanup, school busing and the Boston Housing Authority receivership.
As a reporter and editor, he questioned the status quo in government and sought fresh approaches to journalism. In 2002, he initiated the “Beyond the Big Dig” project to explore possible uses for land freed up by depression of the Central Artery. Working with MIT and WCVB-TV, the Globe ran a six-month public education campaign, which included news coverage, editorials and op-ed pieces as well as community workshops and a televised town forum. The project brought together business leaders, landscape architects, urban planners, academics and community activists to consider one of the largest development issues in Boston’s history. The following year the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy was created.
Bob managed to juggle the demands of his job and find time to earn a master’s degree at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and also produce two books. He wrote “I’ll Never Lie to You; Jimmy Carter in His Own Words” in 1976 and with Globe reporter Charles Kenney, “Dukakis: An American Odyssey” in 1987.
He also has made time to be involved in the community, serving on a number of boards, including the Bench-Bar Committee of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Globe Foundation Advisory Board, ArchitectureBoston Advisory Board, Milton (Mass.) Library Foundation Board, WriteBoston Advisory Board and We Are Boston Advisory Board. He has been a visiting professor at Northeastern University School of Journalism and Stonehill College and a study group leader at the Kennedy School.
At the Commonwealth Compact, Bob said he uses many of the skills he developed as a journalist, working to bring people together with the goal of making the city and state more welcoming to people of color.
Bob lives in Milton, Mass., with his wife Otile McManus, whom he met while both were working at the Globe. They have two grown daughters, Julia and Maggie, described by Bob as “word people,” which seems quite fitting. When told he had been selected to receive the Yankee Quill Award, Bob seemed surprised. “To have this kind of recognition for something I felt was of value and enjoyable ... I’m touched,’’ he said.
—Mary Jane Wilkinson, president, New England First Amendment Coalition