The man who called it ki­wifruit

Grahame Turner, the former man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and chair­man of pro­duce com­pany Turn­ers & Grow­ers, died in early March, aged 93.

The Orchardist - - Obituary - By Glenys Chris­tian

A num­ber of prom­i­nent grow­ers at­tended his fu­neral ser­vice in Auck­land while many more sent mes­sages, re­mem­ber­ing the man who, with his brother Jack, named ki­wifruit and was piv­otal in the de­ci­sion to dis­card stan­dard va­ri­eties in favour of Hay­ward only.

He had also es­tab­lished the still ac­tive re­la­tion­ship with the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia’s Davis cam­pus as agents for the com­pany’s straw­berry va­ri­ety pro­gramme, which has now been trans­ferred to Ber­ryfruit Prop­a­ga­tors Ltd. And he was the vi­sion­ary force be­hind the na­tion­wide devel­op­ment of the Turn­ers Car Auc­tions busi­ness.

“And he was the best pro­duce auc­tion­eer I ever heard,” said his son Don, who fol­lowed in his father’s foot­steps – and de­liv­ered his eu­logy.

Grahame was the fourth of five chil­dren born to Har­vey and Ethel Turner. The had fam­ily lived in the Auck­land sub­urb of Mt Al­bert. Grahame’s younger sis­ter, Au­drey, at­tended the fu­neral ser­vice. Their father Har­vey was the third of nine Turner broth­ers, chil­dren of Ed­ward and Maude Turner, who had come to New Zealand from Cam­bridge in 1883. Grahame’s mother Ethel was a Pen­man, a fam­ily of millers from Te Arai, north of Auck­land, and her mother was a Ross, from Kai­waka.

Grahame won an Auck­land Ju­nior hur­dles ti­tle, and cap­tained a team that won the In­ter­me­di­ate Auck­land Rugby ti­tle. He played flanker for the Mt Al­bert Gram­mar First XV rugby team, and was also in the First XI cricket team.

“He played cricket against a young left-han­der from Taka­puna Gram­mar that they couldn't get out, by the name of Bert Sut­cliffe,” Don re­called.

He also reached the Mt Al­bert Gram­mar School Se­nior Boxing Fi­nal.

“He named me af­ter Don Budge and Don Brad­man, but his fam­ily wasn't so pleased though, as Don­ald was the name of Turn­ers & Grow­ers’ fiercest com­pe­ti­tion.”

Grahame’s brother Jack en­listed to go to the Sec­ond World War at 19 years old on the first day of en­list­ment in 1939, but was cap­tured on Crete in 1941 and spent four years as a pris­oner of war. Grahame and an­other brother David both en­listed as soon as they could, Grahame train­ing as a fighter pi­lot then trav­el­ling to United King­dom. There he be­came a bomber pi­lot, train­ing on Welling­tons and fly­ing Lan­cast­ers across Europe.

“By the end of his tour of 30 flights he was 21.”

Grahame be­came an in­struc­tor un­til the war ended and he re­turned home. His log book is repli­cated at Auck­land’s Mu­seum of Trans­port and Tech­nol­ogy (MOTAT) He was in­vited back to Lon­don a few years ago for the of­fi­cial un­veil­ing by the Queen of the Hyde Park Me­mo­rial to Bomber Com­mand.

Af­ter the war, his father, Har­vey (who had been run­ning the New Zealand Forces Club in Cairo), with Jack and Grahame set

out to re­build Turn­ers & Grow­ers, which had been es­tab­lished in 1920. Har­vey formed Fruit Dis­trib­u­tors Ltd (FDL), which took up where the gov­ern­ment’s wartime sup­plies In­ter­nal Mar­ket­ing Divi­sion (IMD) left off, con­tribut­ing to Ki­wis be­com­ing con­sumers of the largest num­ber of ba­nanas per capita in the world.. Jack fo­cused on veg­eta­bles, pro­duc­tion of which was dom­i­nated by Chi­nese grow­ers, and he came to know the fam­ily con­nec­tions of these grow­ers as well or bet­ter than many of the Chi­nese them­selves.

Grahame fo­cused on fruit, and got to know the Auck­land Dal­ma­tian com­mu­nity who pi­o­neered straw­berry pro­duc­tion and then fruit pro­duc­tion in gen­eral. He also main­tained close con­nec­tions with Hawke’s Bay and Cen­tral Otago fam­i­lies like the Payn­ters and Hin­tons, Ivorys and Tay­lors. He saw the de­fi­cien­cies in Auck­land straw­berry va­ri­eties, and ini­ti­ated con­tact with Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Davis cam­pus, start­ing up im­por­ta­tion of their va­ri­eties which now dom­i­nate New Zealand’s pro­duc­tion.

Hawke’s Bay grower John Payn­ter said he re­mem­bered Grahame’s vis­its to grow­ers there in the 1950s, where he would some­times stay overnight at John’s par­ents’ house.

“If we were lucky enough we would even get a game of ten­nis from him on our as­phalt ten­nis court.”

In 1974, when John and Peter An­der­son formed the Yummy Fruit Com­pany, ex­cited about new Cal­i­for­nian nec­tarine va­ri­eties and the mar­ket­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties they pro­vided, he said there were plenty of crit­ics, but Grahame wasn’t one of them. And af­ter a dis­as­trous start to the ven­ture he was there to pick them up.

“I will never for­get or stop ap­pre­ci­at­ing the en­cour­age­ment he gave us to carry on and suc­ceed. He’s made a huge dif­fer­ence to the pro­duce in­dus­try and to the lives of peo­ple he in­ter­faced with.”

Don said when most of the fruit and veg­etable trade, apart from im­ports and pipfruit, was done un­der the ham­mer his father was the com­pany’s best auc­tion­eer.

“He had an in­stant un­der­stand­ing of the day's val­ues, a sense of fair­ness, a strong pres­ence and con­trol of his sale that en­gen­dered con­fi­dence among buy­ers,” he said.

“And his voice was pen­e­trat­ing yet ef­fort­less. It was au­di­ble across the en­tire mar­ket build­ing.”

Some of those buy­ers are still in the in­dus­try, such as Michael and Lawrence Chong from the North Shore, Peter Stott and Peter and Ron­ald Chan, who Grahame in­tro­duced to Al­bert Gubay of 3 Guys, the com­pany they formed which was the fore­run­ner of Fruit­world. Grahame’s clos­est friend in busi­ness, snooker and ten­nis, was Ray Hing, the first owner of the Mt Al­bert Pak‘nSave.

In 1959 Jack and Grahame named ki­wifruit, which had un­til then been called the Chi­nese goose­berry. They wanted to ex­port it to the United States and the Amer­i­cans told them a name change was re­quired.

“Who else in the world can claim they named a ma­jor fruit?” Don asked.

Grahame was also the driv­ing force be­hind the devel­op­ment of Turn­ers Auc­tions from a small de­part­ment in Auck­land to the na­tion­wide op­er­a­tion un­der John Boswell’s lead­er­ship. He had re­tired as chair­man at 72 years old but had still been very ac­tive and trav­elled widely.

At his bush retreat at Huia.

With Air NZ Sales Man­ager Her­man Tros., and from left Keith Simp­son, Grower Di­rec­tor, Roy Turner and Jack Turner, Di­rec­tors of T&G.

Grahame and Pat Turner. Grahame Turner in ac­tion as an auc­tion­eer.

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