Nevill Turner — No Ordinary Person
Editor’s note: Rappahannock County last week lost one of its leading entrepreneurs, raconteurs and a genuinely fine fellow, Nevill Turner. He was English born and educated, a world traveler, Rappahannock resident since 2005, and a proud America citizen since 2010. Fifteen years ago, Nevill and Clare, his wife, launched the Virginia Chutney Company in the basement of their log cabin in Little Washington. Quite literally a “mom and pop” operation with big dreams. Joined by son Oliver, they expanded their business in 2013 into the old Aileen Plant in Flint Hill, where they now employ 14 full and part-time people. Indicative of Nevill’s style and playfulness, the plant opening featured 200 friends serenaded by opera singers from the Castleton Festival. Their company has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post and other national publications. Now also known as The Preservation Society, the company sells a wide range of condiments in the deli and cheese departments of Walmart, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Martin’s Food, Kroger and numerous other national outlets. What follows is a collective “appreciation” of Nevill by his friends Caroline Anstey, Bill Dietel, and Beverly and John Fox Sullivan.
Marigot Bay, St Lucia is a Caribbean gem. Mangroves in a turquoise sea give way to hillsides dripping with lush palms and red hibiscus. And undulating its way up the steepest slope to the chalets above is the most delightful sight of all: an openair funicular. Defying gravity, and some might say reason, built entirely by local women to his design and direction, it is a fitting metaphor for the indomitable spirit and irrepressible optimism of Nevill Turner, who passed away at his home in Flint Hill last week. In a world peopled by many Eeyores, Nevill was always a Tigger. No challenge too great, no problem that couldn’t be solved. A gentleman and a scholar but much more than that — a glorious AdventurerRaconteur, a man who knew how to live a full life and tell it well. Who can forget his two appearances at Rappahannock’s
No Ordinary Person?
And what an adventure it was: from land developer in England, to managing the Royals on the Caribbean Island of Mustique in its glory days, to restaurant and hotel owner in St Lucia (the wonderful Doolittle’s still remains today), to perhaps his greatest adventure of all — producing gloriously improbable English chutney at the old Aileen Plant in his beloved Rappahannock, home for the last 15 years. Used for centuries in England allegedly to mask the taste of English food, the Turners’ Virginia chutney has since expanded into fig jelly, spicy honey, and soon crackers, stocked at Whole Foods, Walmart and a growing number of retail outlets across the country. Who would have guessed? Perhaps the women who built his funicular and his wonderful Flint Hill team of employees — his chutney family.
Sent to English boarding school at the age of seven and then left there during school holidays because going home was somehow inconvenient, Nevill learned early to make setbacks the stuff of humor, never despair. And such wonderful humor: rustling up a local fisherman to rescue Prince Charles from being marooned; averting a party disaster for Princess Margaret; missing a potentially life changing interview because locked in a pigsty by Clare. Humor so dry it could comfortably slip into a martini glass. But never, ever, unkind.
Like all great raconteurs, Nevill knew the importance of two essential ingredients: timing and a willing sidekick. For 45 years, Claire has been sidekick extraordinaire. Companion, partner, wife, mother to Christopher and Oliver, and adventurer of her own, (leaving England “to do something” for the British Foreign Office in Khartoum), always ready, once a Nevill story started, with the skeptical prompt and the eye roll right on cue — Sybil to his
Basil Fawlty. And lest we forget it was Clare who came up with their Chutney adventure, and, one suspects, many others.
And timing? Timing is to the raconteur what water is to a fish. Essential, but invisible if deployed correctly. Nevill was the master. We wish he had stayed a longer time with us. But he stayed long enough to adventure to Maine to spend a glorious week with his family, wrapped in blankets in the back of a van, surrounded by oxygen tanks, a woolly hat on his head and a grin on his face. Now what a story he would have made out of that. We will miss him. This extraordinary Englishman who became such an American patriot. Truly no ordinary person.
A memorial service for Nevill will be held Sunday, Nov. 24, 4 to 6 p.m. at Washington Town Hall.
Timing is to the raconteur what water is to a fish. Essential, but invisible if deployed correctly. Nevill was the master. We wish he had stayed a longer time with us.