The sudden and unexpected death of John McTurk ripped a hole not just in the lives of his family - wife Monica and daughters Katie and Hilary - but in a whole swathe of Galloway society.
John’s passing at the age of 60 shocked and saddened everyone who knew him. His popularity was reflected in the huge numbers who attended his memorial service at Penninghame St John’s Church in Newton Stewart.
Two men, who knew him well, stood up that day to remember John, and the following obituary is taken from their heartfelt tributes.
John had three great loves in his life - family, rugby and Belties.
Iain McFadzean gave the following eulogy about John McTurk, the rugby man: “John lived and breathed the game with an enthusiasm like no other. He was involved in rugby for 50 years, from his schooldays when he first picked up a rugby ball to just before his death when he ran the line at Bladnoch Park as Newton played Arran. A long time - and he loved every single minute. He started playing rugby at St Mary’s Prep School in Melrose. His twin brother Allan can remember that every available minute at school breaks and after class was spent throwing a rugby ball about. He made his mark quickly, showing a great talent and aptitude for the game and played for St Mary’s 1st XV for three seasons. When he left school he played for Langholm Colts and then for the senior side. Indeed, it was here that he had one of his finest moments, representing Langholm at Twickenham in the Middlesex Sevens.
“John then moved to Dumfries where he played for many years. He left Dumfries in the early 80s, after marrying Monica and moving to the May Farm, and joined Wigtownshire. It is no coincidence that the purple patch in ‘Shire’s history started when John arrived. Almost consecutive promotion campaigns saw the club climb from division 7 to the National Division 2 where they cemented a place among the big boys of Scottish Rugby. During his time at ‘Shire John also played for Dumfries and Galloway and the Glasgow District team. John’s physical strength, his speed of thought and his ability to read the game made him the best scrum half ever seen at ‘Shire. He didn’t look like a rugby player. He had a kind of shuffling gait, his backside stuck out as did his stomach in later years but was incredibly quick and light on his feet. Robin Murdoch, his stand off, never remembers getting a bad pass from John. And he finished many a game with his jersey as clean as it was when he started. Mind you, as he was a stand off maybe he didn’t tackle very much!
“He was a gentleman on and off the park. I remember a Rhins/Machars game at Bladnoch. They could be feisty affairs at times and played on the second of January the reek of alcohol coming off the scrums would have knocked you down. It was the first time I’d seen John that year and as we met at the first scrum he shook my hand and wished me a happy new year. Then bang! He proceeded to give me as torrid a time as I’ve ever had on the rugby park. But that was John. No friends on the park. When he crossed the line he was interested only in the ball and in his teammates. As the years passed he moved to Newton Stewart Rugby Club, mainly in a coaching capacity. And his legacy there is the continued success of the club.
“Unfortunately the final whistle sounded for John far too early. He will be sadly missed at London Road, Park Farm and Bladnoch and other grounds across the region. All that’s left to say is - as was said on many occasions - ‘well played John’.”
Robert Graham then spoke of John’s immense contribution to improving the historic Belted Galloway Cattle breed.
“John and I got to know one another some 40 odd years ago when we were members of Stewartry Young Farmers Club. John was brought up at Gateside, Lochfoot into a large family who were noted breeders of Hereford and Galloway cattle and Blackface sheep. When John and Monica set up home at The May they built up a small select herd of Belted Galloways. The May Herd competed at shows as far north as the Highland at Ingliston and south to the Royal at Stoneleigh and taking in the Great Yorkshire Show at Harrogate on the return journey. In 1995 May “Wafer” was winning all the shows and John received the Stockman of the Year Trophy. In 2002 the May Herd was sold off when John and Monica relinquished the tenancy of the farm and John was then proud to become Manager of the Mochrum Herd, one of the oldest and world renowned.
“In 2013, Mochrum Lilac the 3rd attended eight shows and won every one of them. John was a capable judge who was in charge at the Royal Show in 2007 and also had officiated at Straiton and the Great Yorkshire in other years.
He would have been called upon to be decision maker in many other show rings had he not been on the end of a halter, as an exhibitor.
“John was a Belted Galloway Cattle Society Council Member for around 20 years.
He was never afraid to put his point across. If he felt something needed said he would say it!
But John always had a twinkle in his eye and was always ready to see the humorous side of a situation.
“John was always keen to assist new members with advice and guidance whenever requested.
One member who described John as ”one of the most genuine people I have ever met” was new to showing at the Highland in 1988 and had prepared his animal which was haltered and ready to be called to the ring, when John strolled past and casually commented “it could do with a little bit off the tail”.
The exhibitor suspected that this may be a wind-up but went ahead and trimmed the tail.
On John’s return he said that it looked better but would perhaps benefit from a little more off. So off it came and the bull went on to be reserve male champion. At the Highland Show 2014 John quietly but swiftly secured the purchase of the Champion Bull ahead of other potential purchasers.
This swift action and opportunity taken must have been learnt on the rugby field but could leave Mochrum Herd with the John McTurk stamp for many years to come.
“Last October the Wigtown Book Festival organised an event at Mochrum where guests were given a short talk on the history of the Belted Galloway and there-after escorted on a farm tour of the herd. Around 80 delegates, on a day of near perfect weather were taken round the herd where John explained his views on what he liked in a good animal and answered questions from visitors from many corners of the world.”
John McTurk will be fondly remembered and sadly missed by all who knew him but his legacy lives on through his beloved daughters, his quality livestock and the rugby teams he helped shape, pointing them all towards a secure and prosperous future.