John L. Turner MD, was Philadelphia FIGHT’s founding Principal Investigator. John was one of the first physicians, and among the only openly gay physicians, to come forward to treat HIV in the earliest years of the epidemic. His practice provided comfort and solace, but most importantly, hope, for people living with HIV, at a time when there was very little hope. Yet John’s amazing ability to lay on hands, and remind his patients of the many reasons they had to live, helped many people to stay alive until the drugs did come. He was tireless in his attention to his patients, working seemingly endless hours in his office at Graduate Hospital for many many years. As an openly gay physician at a time when that was still a brave and unusual way to present himself, John also opened up a space where openly gay men could feel completely accepted, with no need to dissemble or to hide who they were in order to receive care.
John was also a pioneer in the testing of new medicines for HIV, helping his patients get access to clinical trials well before the well organized system of trials we have today. In his role as founder and Principal Investigator of Philadelphia FIGHT, John saw the need for Philadelphia to have a clinical trials organization that would be based in the community and that would provide additional access to people who needed trials to stay alive. He also saw the need to think outside the box, and to assure that ideas that might have been new or different received adequate attention. In particular he was an early adopter of the idea that the immune system itself could play a role in controlling HIV and worked with many initiatives, including those developed by Jonas Salk, to see if this concept could be made into a reality. John also participated in many city-wide efforts to bring organization to the various AIDS initiatives in Philadelphia, and spoke widely throughout our community to explain what this new disease called AIDS was all about and why people should not turn away from those living with HIV.
John had so many other accomplishments that could be described, but more than anything, we want to remember this one: every patient who came to see John in the 1980’s, when AIDS was new, and there were no drugs or drugs that were virtually useless, when people were dying every single day and there seemed to be no end in sight – every patient who came to see John in those days left his office less afraid than when they went in.