Meaher Patrick Turner, 1920-2005
Every Sunday, until his wife died three years ago, Meaher Patrick Turner had the whole family for dinner. The group was 17 strong, including children and grandchildren, and the gatherings were boisterous and joyful.
Turner always cooked roast beef with mashed potatoes and green peas. He always said grace before the meal. And he always sounded off about the things that were on his mind: the latest doings at St. Maria Goretti Church or the way cable television was ruining the younger generation or what a wonderful president George W. Bush was.
"His personality was, he was always right," daughter Sheila Williams said. "And we agreed with him. Even when we thought he was wrong."
Born and reared in Faubourg Marigny, Turner graduated from St. Aloysius High School and spent most of his career with the Federal Housing Authority, beginning as a clerk and retiring as a chief underwriter. He served in the infantry in the Pacific Theater during World War II. He was married for 58 years to Cecile Gracianette, with whom he raised four children in eastern New Orleans' Kenilworth neighborhood.
As with the Sunday evening dinners, Turner had his routines. He went to Mass every morning. He said his prayers every night. He went on retreat at Manresa every August. He spent Mardi Gras at Lee Circle. He spent Christmas Eve at home in a Santa Claus suit, hosting a grand party. And every summer, he took his family to Biloxi, Miss., for vacation.
And then there were the Tulane games. Turner had a soft spot in his heart for Tulane University football, and for about 40 years, he bought season tickets -- one for him, one for his son, Pat.
"We made all the games, ever since I was about 9 or 10 years old," Pat Turner said.
"Political-wise and social-wise, my point of view was different than my daddy's. He was a more conservative type of guy; I was more a rebel. But when it came to Tulane, we always agreed on Tulane."
As Hurricane Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, the elder Turner's children implored him to evacuate.
"We started aggravating my daddy on Friday -- and then Saturday and Sunday, too," Williams said.
But Turner was resolute: He had evacuated last year for Hurricane Ivan and, after a long and laborious trip to Austin, Texas, he had sworn he'd never do it again.
Besides, he told his children, these hurricanes always take a turn at the last minute and go elsewhere.
"He basically laughed," Williams said, "and he told me, 'If anything bad happens, I'm 85 years old, I've lived my life.' "
Something bad did happen. It appears to have been a heart attack.
"We all talked to him in the middle of the storm," daughter Charlotte Wightman said. "He said it was windy and his electricity was out and the weather was bad. But no water. He was OK.
"But then the levees broke, and we never could contact him again."
About two weeks later, the family got the New Orleans Fire Department to go to the house and check on their father.
They found Turner's body in the attic, with a baseball bat, a crucifix and three religious medals.
Published in The Times-Picayune