It was appropriate that Allen Turner’s last bylined story was about the opening of a new $5 million apartment complex in Fair Bluff, the town he grew up in and loved. The story was published Dec. 22, just 12 days before his death on Jan. 2 after years of battling lung disease and a recent cancer diagnosis.
Despite his illness, he continued to dutifully report on local government, winning the prestigious Henry Lee Weathers Freedom of Information Award in 2019 for exposing the inadequacy of closed session minutes by the county commission as required by North Carolina law.
Allen came to work at The News Reporter in 2011 after serving as town clerk for Fair Bluff.
His knowledge of politics, his trustworthiness and attention to detail made him a natural fit for the job here. There will always be occasional errors in news stories because we’re all human, but Allen didn’t make many.
His reporting on hurricanes Matthew and Florence and their destructive effects on Fair Bluff brought to life the level of devastation suffered by the river town. Allen took perhaps the most iconic photo from Matthew: a motorboat cruising through the deep water downtown.
Allen’s reporting about the long-term effects of the hurricanes on Fair Bluff was no doubt a factor in the town getting state and federal aid.
Allen was able to attend The News Reporter’s socially distanced office party just before Christmas, but he was just barely able to make it inside even with high-flow oxygen.
Yet, Allen embodied the dedication and tenacity of a long line of The News Reporter writers who persevered to do their jobs despite duress. Many a night he labored up the stairs of the Dempsey Herring Annex to attend a county commissioners meeting to the point of exhaustion. Still, you could count on a reliable story from Allen the next day.
Allen called me from the hospital not long before he died offering to resign because of his failing health, but how can you accept the resignation of a man who has given so much and cares so deeply about his work? Perhaps he knew the end was near; yet, he nonetheless agreed to try to keep reporting.
Allen was an example of resiliency and dedication to us all.
Fair Bluff native Sen. Bill Rabon said he and Allen were friends since childhood. They continued to share a love for their hometown through the years.
“I’m gonna miss him,” Rabon said. “We were very close. I was surprised but not shocked because I knew he’d been in bad health for a while.”
Rabon and Allen were about the same age and Eagle Scouts in Fair Bluff Troop 503, one of the largest troops in the Cape Fear Council at the time.
“It was the only show in town: Scouts and Sunday School,” Rabon laughed.
“Even as a kid, Allen loved to be in the know, to know what was going on before it happened,” Rabon said. “He was very bright with a natural curiosity about things. That’s what made him such a good reporter.
“He loved politics,” Rabon added. “He would ask about background information, and you knew he would never betray that confidence. He cared deeply about Fair Bluff and Columbus County.”
Al Leonard, who has been town manager of Fair Bluff, among other towns, since 1996, was manager when the town board hired Allen in 2002 as its clerk.
Allen didn’t know much about municipal government, but he was a quick study, Leonard said. The two men became close.
“He was my kid older brother.”
Leonard said Allen was well-served by several traits, including that he “genuinely enjoyed and understood the workings of government and politics. He also never forgot a name.”
Leonard and Allen crossed paths extensively once Allen joined The News Reporter staff.
“When you love your job, you never have to get up to go to work,” Leonard said.
Like Rabon, Leonard noted that Allen was always endeared to his hometown and was saddened by the floods.
“We all remember the great times of our childhood, and he was heartbroken about what Mother Nature had done to Fair Bluff. He knew the town had been knocked on his knees and the future was weighing in the balance.”
Allen embodied the level of reliability and truth telling that our newspaper’s journalists strive to achieve and the country needs more than ever. He did so admirably and will be missed.