50 Years - Together
Harry Pickup, Jr.
Temple Terrace, Florida
On December 12, 1986, Robert and Vivian Turner will have completed 50 years together as husband and wife. The quality of their relationship is even more remarkable than the quantity of it. It is one thing to remain together for 50 years; it is another thing to remain together happily. The tie which binds them is simply this: They believe that God knows what is best for all people; when God's people obey God's truth they receive what is best. Robert and Vivian have committed themselves individually and mutually to follow God's truth.
Robert is Vivian's "head." Being such he has gladly accepted the responsibility of their relationship. He cheerfully loves and cares for her. He "sanctified" her by setting her apart from all other women with the unique love of a husband for a wife. She is the object of his continuing concern and the living demonstration of the best that is in him. In a word she is his "glory."
Vivian is "subject" to Robert, not as an inferior personality, but by being submissive in service. Without reservation she is his "helper." Without destroying her own individuality she has made his goals, hers; his interests, hers. As remarkable as his talents are, intimate friends know that without Vivian to help him, Robert probably would have been an ordinary man.
The benevolent intentions of the Corinthian Christians "hath stirred up every man." The marriage of Robert and Vivian is an inspiring demonstration to all lovers - in the scriptural meaning of that word. Culturally they are the products of another time when life was simpler, right and wrong were viewed by the majority as opposite absolutes and being a "square" was a compliment not a putdown. Spiritually they are the products of God-believing parents who instructed them in the admonition of the Lord and urged them to choose freely the "good life" which results from obeying the gospel. Characteristics such as thrift, work, accepting responsibility for one's choices and honor were factors they learned at home through teaching and example.
This writing is intended as a tribute not an ultimate sentence of their destiny. Tributes involve judgments. Human judgments are often affected by personal and subjective factors. In the 36 years of our friendship my life has been affected frequently by them in many significant ways. Even though I love and respect them both I believe that this tribute is both accurate and true. As the Holy Spirit said of Barnabas, "they are good people, full of the Holy Spirit and faith."
In the Beginning
Characteristically their introduction to each other was the result of a spiritual circumstance. Robert had just finished two years at Freed Hardeman College, was preaching in Indianapolis, Indiana, for a summer, and was recommended by the elders of that church to the elders in a church in Urbana, Illinois. Working with the Urbana church permitted him to continue his college career at the University of Illinois. In all of our years of friendship I have heard Robert say only two things about his college work at the University: (1) They furthered his writing skills and (2) He was on the varsity pistol shooting team. If you will think about it for a moment, shooting accuracy and writing skills do go together. His ability to write has served the cause of Christ well. Many jackrabbits from Arizona to Australia have given their lives in sacrifice to his pleasure in shooting.
When Robert arrived in Urbana to discuss the work, he was met by an elder and two young ladies brought along to help entertain the young single visiting preacher. One of these young ladies was Vivian Allison.
Their first date was on July 4, 1936. Their courtship blossomed in Vivian's beauty shop located in the rear of a barbershop. A once popular song spoke of a woman washing a man out of her hair. It appears that Vivian's washing Robert's freshly cut hair washed him right into her life. Obviously I was not present for the courtship but I have not the slightest doubt that it involved him thrilling Vivian either with down-home humorous poetry or orderly dissertations on the proper care of firearms. Obviously he would have been no rival for Robert Browning as a poet nor Clark Gable as a romancer. She married him anyway.
Both of their roots go deeply into the faith of Christ. Vivian's family, consisting of eight children, are all Christians. Early life took them from Texas through Tennessee and Indiana. The father's income was derived from farming and railroading. Working and frugality were basic factors in her childhood training. These features she developed as the wife of a gospel preacher and the mother of two children. She cared well for her family while believing it was her duty to live within their means.
Robert is one of six children whose family also are all Christians. He was born in Scottsville, Kentucky, where his brother, Jack, still serves as an elder in a local church. The successful business of father Turner was interrupted by the depression. Robert's early hobbies were hunting and reading. I am positive that each book was put in its own place and woe be to the person who dared to move it.
Mother Turner was determined that Robert would have a college education. Consistent with the prevailing thinking among brethren of her day she intended that a part of his education should include instruction by Christians. With this goal in mind she traded a diamond ring to Brother N.B. Hardeman for one year of Robert's schooling at Freed Hardeman College. He arrived at the College with $5. If circumstances demanded it, he would probably be able to produce records showing how every penny of the $5 was spent. The history of some Christian's lives would make excellent material for a soap opera. The history of Robert's life would make suitable material for a textbook on accounting.
The Turners have two children and three grandchildren. Their daughter, Barbara Sernmelmann, a vivacious and charming woman lives with her husband, Marcus, in San Antonio, Texas. They are the parents of two children. They worship with the Pecan Valley church in San Antonio. Jimmy, a quiet and responsibly successful young professional man lives in Plano, Texas, with his wife, Dyann, and daughter. They are worshiping with the Melrose church.
Two Parts of a Whole
Every Christian is a minister of Christ. The ministry that Robert "received in the Lord" was evangelism. Vivian's was to be a "helper of many and of mine own self." She personified the meaning of being a "helpmeet" as the wife of an evangelist. Robert's preaching has taken them into Illinois, Indiana, Texas, and Arizona, and back to Texas in local work; traveling evangelistic work has taken them into a majority of states.
While their influence has always been substantive and successful it has never been spectacular in a way that a July 4 fireworks show is spectacular. They have had a settling effect upon churches. People could always look forward to true and plain sermons from Robert. Vivian could be counted upon to be sympathetic to and supportive of human needs. Her influence was felt by people personally and directly. He is a master in preaching the profundity of the gospel in a manner so that common people could understand. "And the common people heard him gladly." Her "adorning" is "of the hidden man of the heart, of a quiet and meek spirit which is in the sight of God of great price." What a combination!
Robert is a preacher whether speaking orally or by means of the written word. It is my judgment that he will be remembered longer for his writing. He does not write in the style of brother Wallace or brother Cogdill, both of whom he read after often. He writes more in the style of brother Whiteside. He is crystal clear in his concepts and in expressing them. He is the soul of brevity without being casual. What a marvelous talent he has - both given and developed to deal with the "hard sayings" in a plain manner. He writes for people not scholars though both benefit from his ability. Plain Talk, a paper begun and published by his good brethren of Burnet, Texas, will be read with profit by succeeding generations.
Though never a controversial preacher Robert has fought in wars. He was never one to believe that the chief evidence of spiritual development was a fuss. His enemy is always Satan; and he aims for his heart. His tactics are never carnal. He is a teacher of truth. He teaches for the glory of God and for the benefit of men who desperately need the gospel of God's grace.
Then his humor - he is not comedic; he is humorous in the Will Roger's sense. There is absolutely nothing earthy or suggestive about it; and it is certainly not sophisticated. He finds life enjoyable and considers humor a good part of the enjoyable life. He can use it well to accomplish an end without featuring it as an end in itself. Uniquely he is his own best audience. He enjoys both his own preaching as well as his own humor. I said that one time to an assembly of his "best friends" and I think they misunderstood the comment. I'm afraid they took it as a criticism though I didn't intend it as such. It isn't a criticism at all, it is a simple fact. He literally enjoys good preaching and good humor, his or someone else's. When he is doing either he is perfectly able to stand back from himself and enjoy either the preaching or the humor without being proud at all of his own ability. Unlike many humorous preachers he is able to see humor in himself.
Humor appears to escape Vivian. She is very literal minded. Though she is especially pleasant and most enjoyable company, the point to much humor tends to elude her. There is nothing humorous, however, about her cooking. If she ever invites you to eat with her when she intends to make cornbread, my advice is to accept the invitation even if you have just eaten.
While Robert is an excellent teacher, teaching at Florida College has been difficult for him. From the comments which I have heard personally both from his peers and his students, the quality of this work is on the same level of his other works. Robert and Vivian do not consider themselves the professorial types. They never act pretentiously and affectation makes them uncomfortable. These qualities, along with their individual abilities, make them Florida College "type" folks. They are right at home among people whose chief interests are to please God through faithful living and sound teaching rather than by academic achievement and human accomplishment. As usual Vivian, prepares the soil of the human heart while Robert plants the seed.
While their lives are untarnished by the glaring evils of the present age, they are not perfect people. They appreciate the grace of God for personal reasons - for forgiveness of sins and providential promises. They understand human weaknesses and individual failures. Trials have refined their faith. Living has taught them to be sympathetic toward others which is unmixed with compromise.
It is difficult to restrain myself in writing a tribute to people for whom I have so much respect and affection. In summary: Their lives are a living example of people who love God first and who have loved each other well. Thousands of people have been made better because they are friends of Robert and Vivian. God has been glorified through their 50 years together.
Guardian of Truth XXX: 22, pp. 689-691