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Anthony Turney – Eulogy

Anthony Turney: December 23, 1937 – July 4, 2014

A Eulogy, offered by David Perry

“The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend.”

The words of Henry David Thoreau: written in the front of a journal that Anthony gifted me with. Over 30 years, I was blessed and challenged to experience that friendship.  All of you here, have experienced that friendship too, and each in a uniquely Anthony way. Anthony made an impression on each of you: on everyone he met. Once at a party I referred to Anthony as my mentor to which he replied: “Don’t call me that. It makes me sound so old.” After that, I just started referring to him as my “longest serving friend.”

Anthony Turney cut quite the swath. The voice. The poise. The devastating good looks.  Upon meeting Anthony as he interviewed for his position at San Francisco Opera, Terry McKewn, Opera general director and somewhat of a flirt remarked to him: “if you have half a brain, you’ve got the job.” He needn’t have worried.  Anthony’s intellect was staggering: with an ability to lead and analyze that was incredible to see in action.

Anthony was Courageous. Complex. Compassionate, but often capricious and sometimes honest to the point of near brutality. Someone once said that the five scariest words in the English language were Anthony saying “dear, we need to talk.” He loved giving sermons: from the pulpit and also from his living room couch.  But above all Anthony was generous, loving and loyal.

His wit was sharp, often self-deprecating and sometimes completely inappropriate. When our friend Felipe was cremated last year, Anthony whispered to me in the midst of the crematorium, “Be careful when they shove me into the fire. You’ll be advised to stand far back.”  A joke he once told at a political colleague’s roast in Washington, DC resulted in the entire table from Utah leaving in horror. I can’t repeat the joke here, but see me at the reception following. Once at the gym, Anthony observed someone wearing a less than flattering workout outfit. His comment: “Some things you should stop wearing at 40. Actually some things you should stop wearing at 35.” Of course, I was the person wearing the outfit.

Anthony enjoyed crosswords, vodka martinis, cheap Italian white wine, and Chitos: “My indulgences,” he called them. He was horrible at charades but repeatedly brought down the house with his memorable interpretation of Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m still here” from “Follies.” His stories were delicious, his cooking — not so much, although he did master an exquisite coq-au-vin and his British trifle — well, it was nothing with which to trifle. He loved disco dancing, cruising aboard ship and lighthouses. But, most of all, he loved his family and friends.

Anthony was out as a gay man long before it was wise or safe to do so. He brought that integrity into his church, into this Cathedral, and all are better for it.  Anthony lost two great loves — Jimmy Brumbaugh & Luay Albazi — to AIDS and dozens of friends. Because of Anthony, millions of people experienced the power of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, and because of Anthony the AIDS Interfaith Chapel gives comfort and tribute to countless people here in Grace Cathedral. Three times he biked from San Francisco to Los Angeles as part of the AIDS LifeCycle and blessed Alfredo and me from his hospice bed before we did it, in his honor, last month. I’m convinced it is the reason we didn’t have one flat in the entire 545 miles.

Anthony greatly admired Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Razor’s Edge’, especially the film into which it was made. It chronicles the life of a WWI veteran who returns, shattered, by what he has seen in the trenches and devotes the rest of his life to seeking a higher truth. In the trenches as Anthony had been fighting AIDS discrimination, homophobia and injustice. There’s a quote near the beginning of the film that, I believe, honors Anthony as well.

“The man I am writing about is not famous. It may be that he never will be. It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature.”