By Lili Martinez
Thomas Turgeon, emeritus professor of drama and one of Kenyons most beloved figures for more than 40 years, died on Wednesday, Jan. 9 at the age of 70. He had suffered from amyothropic lateral sclerosis (ALS) since 2006.
When Turgeon arrived at Kenyon in 1972, he began a career that spanned Macbeth, Twelfth Night, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Taming of the Shrew, The Fantasticks, and Don Juan, among others.
With a knowledge of theater described by many as encyclopedic, Turgeons legacy at Kenyon will live on through themany professors Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell, Professor of Drama Wendy MacLeod, and others who were once his students.
At first I always wanted to call him Professor Turgeon because I had such reverence for him as a teacher and as a mentor, Tazewell said of his transition from Turgeons student to his colleague. Tazewell graduated in 1984 and returned to teach in 1997. He was a consummate professional. It was always about keeping up with Tom, for me. I always felt like I had to be better in order to be onstage with him.
Turgeon was a Francophile and often translated French plays and adapted them for the Kenyon stage. His wife, Peggy Turgeon, made a place in the community catering with a friend, Joyce Klein, for College events. They went on to start Friday Caf, a popular Kenyon tradition that endures to this day. Turgeon was an avid cook as well, attending cooking classes in Columbus with his wife and traveling around Knox County and beyond with longtime friend, Professor of English William Klein.
Many remembered Turgeon as a brilliant teacher who inspired students not just to act, but to understand the story within a play and to ask interesting questions about it. He taught me how to be a concrete thinker, said MacLeod. The audience doesnt see something until you make it tangible, which is what were trying to do when we put a play together.
MacLeod emphasized Turgeons multifaceted knowledge. He was so many things, and thats one of the things thats really unusual now, is its hard to hire somebody who can do all of the things Tom did, she said. He taught theater history, he taught acting, he taught all kinds of dramatic literature courses, history of film, he did adaptations, he did translations.
As a memorial to Turgeon, Tazewell will direct an adaptation of Scapino!, a Moliere play, this spring. The two worked together on a production of that show in 1982, when Tazewell was an undergraduate.
Turgeon presided over the opening of the Bolton Theater in 1977 and wrote passionately about Kenyons need for a functional theater space. His passions extended into the field of education in general, and he delivered a speech on Founders Day in 1980 in which he encouraged students to think about the tradition Kenyons founders bestowed upon the school, linking them to rituals in the theatre world. A rite of passage and the rites of the theater may have this in common: they remind the community in a public way of the essential and unanswerable questions of their lives; the mysteries of time, growth, death, hope, love and laughter, he wrote. Kenyons kind of teaching is different precisely because it requires a sense of membership for teacher and student alike if its going to work. And a sense of membership in the college is what this ritual is all about.
Turgeons wife remembered him as a partner who helped her out with chores around the house and loved to host dinner parties. He was a very gentle, thoughtful person, she said. He enjoyed his friends and he enjoyed good food and wine. This has just been a wonderful place for us to be as a family and for him to work here. He just loved working at Kenyon. Were thankful for all of the years weve had here.
In his Founders Day speech, Turgeon seemed to recognize that, perhaps, he had contributed something special to the College, too. At this college, a special kind of teaching and learning is possible, but if its going to work each of us has to think of ourselves as potential members in what happens here, he wrote. So welcome to our company. And lets get at it.