Remembering Carl Turner

Two Street Sense vendors pose with their vests and newspapers.

Carl Turner and his sister. Street Sense file photo

Carl Turner, a former Street Sense artist and vendor, died in September. He was 71.

Turner was born in June 1952 in Chester, Pennsylvania, into a big family. The family moved to D.C. when Turner was a teenager, and he finished high school in Maryland. Turner was in a serious relationship with his high school sweetheart and the pair had their first child shortly after they graduated high school. He and his sweetheart separated sometime after that. 

Turner was an extensive traveler and spent much of the next decade traveling across the United States. He lived in Texas, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, Washington and Virginia before returning to the District. 

While in Richmond, Turner met his ex-wife, Jacqueline Turner, who goes by Jackie. The couple got married in the Bronx in 1984 before heading back to D.C. They were married for 32 years before separating in 2018. 

Jackie said Turner had many jobs, including a brief stint in the Senate working as a page and several years as a used car mechanic and salesman. But Jackie remembered him as “one of those free people” who was never meant for a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. 

Turner joined Street Sense in 2007, later bringing Jackie with him to the team. Angie Whitehurst, a fellow Street Sense Media artist and vendor, remembered Turner most strongly for his relationship with Jackie. 

“She was his lifeline, she allowed him to be the person he was at heart,” Whitehurst said. 

In Jackie’s memory, Turner was outgoing, charming and caring. Despite their separation, she remembers him with fondness and generosity. 

While they were married, Jackie remembers feeling like the couple could never go anywhere without someone calling out Turner’s childhood nickname: “Magic Man!” Each time, they’d have to stop and talk for a while. 

“He must’ve known a million people,” she said. “And everyone knew him.”

Jackie said Turner had the gift of gab, which could be simultaneously charming and infuriating. Turner often found it difficult to know when to hold his tongue, which got him into trouble throughout his life but also contributed to his popularity. 

“Everybody liked him, even though he talked a lot of trash,” Jackie said. “But he never hurt anyone. He would make you laugh. He had a wild personality.”

Jackie and Turner met on a bus when Turner, whom Jackie remembers as being well-dressed and handsome, struck up a conversation. He had an “intoxicating charm,” she remembered, that made him unique. No matter how much his talking got on people’s nerves or the trouble it got him into, no one could ever seem to bring themselves to hate him. 

“He told me I never had to do anything I didn’t want to,” she said. That was the sentiment that made her initially fall in love with him. He wanted her to know that he loved her and would take care of her. Jackie laughed remembering how he’d pound his chest and tell her “I’m the man.” In the early days of their marriage, she remembers Turner always making an effort to make her feel beautiful and cared for. 

Jackie says Turner took great joy in being able to share gifts with the people he loved. He bought her flowers. She recalls him enthusiastically demonstrating the various usages of a hair dryer he bought her, including a function meant to help dry nail polish more quickly. “I know you’re going to love this,” Jackie remembers him telling her, excitedly listing every perk. 

For Turner it seemed it was the act of giving the gift that mattered most, not the object’s price or use. One day, he bought Jackie a bottle of Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds perfume, a steep purchase at the time. Almost immediately after leaving the store, Jackie dropped the bottle of perfume and it shattered on the sidewalk. She was crying, furious with herself, but Turner comforted her. “Don’t worry about it. It ain’t nothing but perfume,” he told her. 

Turner’s big family came with lots of nephews, and eventually, his granddaughter. Turner had an extraordinary ability to bond with children, according to Jackie. 

“My granddaughter thought her grandfather was the nicest man in the world because he knew how to play kids’ games,” she said, laughing. 

She recalled Turner teasing his nephews, and the way the kids would light up when they saw him. He performed magic tricks and challenged the boys to push-up contests like a friendly drill sergeant. Each push-up earned the kids a dollar. “He was a sweet man, in his way,” Jackie said. 

Eventually, Jackie and Turner separated. Turner could be demanding and mean, Jackie said, and had a temper. She decided that to take care of herself, she should leave him, but it didn’t mean she didn’t love him. 

“I will miss him. I will always think about him,” Jackie said, “He will always be in my heart. And I know some people feel the same way about him.”

If you have a memory of Carl that you would like to share, please contact Street Sense Media at [email protected]

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