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Lack of sight just a hurdle in attorney’s lengthy career

Sun., Jan. 9, 2011

UI grad overcame accident, credits his ‘great friends’

TWIN FALLS, Idaho – Harry Turner’s law office is filled with large books he has never read. But their subjects and indexes are stamped in his memory.

From his desk is a timeless view of downtown Twin Falls and light filters through the window, reflecting off the glasses Turner wears comfortably. The spectacles are for aesthetics, he said.

Turner, 83, is blind, but it hasn’t stopped him from living a successful, adventurous life. He’s cross-country skied in Sun Valley, skied down Bald Mountain and learned how to water ski in Hagerman. Turner started practicing law and ran for the Legislature in 1956, where he served eight years in the House.

He can remember 12 colors from the crayons he drew with as a child and certain images remain with him from his five years of vision. But a childhood accident with a knife scarred his right eye when he was in kindergarten and he lost his sight roughly four months later. Both eyes were affected, a sympathetic reaction that occurs frequently if one eye is injured.

Born in 1927 and raised in Twin Falls as the son of a banker and a teacher, Turner was encouraged to be independent and find his own way in life. His parents’ motto was “If you learned it before you were hurt, you can learn it after,” so learn he did – to swim and to kayak, to ride horses and to do math quickly.

When he was 11, he asked his father what career path he would have encouraged if Turner wasn’t blind. His father told him he wanted Turner to be a lawyer and go to school in Missouri, which influenced his decision to pursue law once he learned his sight would never be restored.

While he learned Braille when he was young, it has never been Turner’s primary way of consuming information.

“It’s so slow,” he said.

He attended the Idaho School for the Deaf and the Blind for five years but was frustrated by its environment.

“I was never taught that I was handicapped,” Turner said. “I felt stifled.”

He transferred to Twin Falls High School in the ninth grade and was easily accepted, although he says he was the first student with a disability the school had enrolled.

“The kids and teachers were just wonderful,” Turner said. “When it came time for exams, they would read me a question and I’d type the answers.”

He graduated in the top 25 percent of his class and went on to attend the University of Idaho for his undergraduate degree and to attend law school. He discovered the Delta Gamma sorority had a national philanthropic program, Sight Conservation and Aid to the Blind, which encouraged its members to volunteer time to read to blind students. Turner asked some of the UI Delta Gamma chapter if they would consider reading to him as part of their philanthropy. After class he would meet with a reader around 3 p.m. and study until 10 p.m.

Turner said there was so much reading in law school he knew he couldn’t become emotionally involved with any of his readers. When it came time to study for the bar, Turner and a friend dedicated their entire summer to it.

“It was very important to me to pass the bar on the first try,” he said. “I’ve had great friends who have helped me through life.”

The three-day examination lasted eight hours each day and friends would read him the questions while he typed the answers. A difficult test, but for Turner, it ended successfully.

Years later, he is still practicing law in Twin Falls, working with estates, wills and contracts. He said he will continue to do so as long as he can walk up the stairs to his second-floor office. His secretary, Sandy Romans, has been with Turner since 1956. She took a break to raise her family but came back to work with him in 1972.

“We don’t do as much research now as we used to but Harry used to be able to tell me exactly what book and section I need to look up,” Romans said.

While most of Turner’s life has been dedicated to helping people through his practice, he found love late in life and 12 years ago married one of his former Delta Gamma readers from UI, Gerry Fox, who is originally from Hailey.

“I liked her when I met her. I liked her when I married her and I still like her,” Turner said. “I’ve always tried to keep track of her after college.”

Fox said she never thinks about Turner’s lack of sight. She’s always just considered him an amazing man.

“He is such a caring person and so supportive,” she said. “He’s the most loving and kindest person I’ve ever met.”

It’s been a full and busy life for Turner, one he thinks is a sight to behold.


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