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February 02, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Longtime Palo Alto teacher dies Longtime Palo Alto teacher dies (February 02, 2005)

Florence Turner, a beloved teacher of two generations of Palo Alto students, died Jan. 6.

Born in Shreveport, La., she moved to California at a young age. After attending high school in the Bakersfield area, she received her bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees at Stanford University.

She began her career with the Palo Alto Unified School District in 1943 as a first-year probationary teacher at Addison Elementary School followed by two years teaching boy's physical education at Jordan Middle School. In 1947, she accepted a position at Palo Alto High School, teaching English and journalism and serving as faculty advisor for "The Campanile." Five years later, she transferred into the history department where she remained, teaching contemporary world history and pioneering a course in Far East history. She retired in 1987 after more than 40 years of teaching in Palo Alto.

"For me as a teacher, being able to listen to her and see how the kids react to her was just amazing. She was a great role model," said Palo Alto High School Principal Scott Lawrence, who remembers her fondly. As a young teacher at Paly, Lawrence shared a classroom with her and still has some history materials he borrowed from her.

"Her memories are what made Paly such a special place when I got here," he said. Included in these memories are some of her classroom sayings. During a lecture, she would often say, "Now pay attention because I'm going to drop some jewels." "That means she was going to say something important so you better pay attention," explained niece Mary Cambridge.

And before exams, she would tell the students, "Just shake your hands and say, 'What the hell,'" according to the Feb. 19, 1982 issue of "The Campanile."

A resident in Palo Alto for more than 60 years, she was constantly approached on the streets and in the shops around town by former students wanting to thank her for something she had said or done that made a permanent impression on them or influenced their life direction. She felt that every one of those chance meetings were the true rewards of teaching.

Cambridge, her adopted niece, recalled the teacher's favorite anecdote of such an encounter.

"She was driving through town and someone had cut her off in the car and she got upset and 'flipped him the bird' as she put it, which is something I'd never seen her do. And so she pulled into the parking lot at Safeway. The man that was in the car who she flipped off came up to her and said, 'Miss Turner?' Then he said, 'You should have done that to me a long time ago when I was in your class,'" Cambridge recounted.

"I will remember her as just an open and loving soul, but a very determined, independent person. She lived by herself her whole life and supported herself," Cambridge said.

She is survived by her niece, Mary S. Cambridge of Palo Alto; nephew, Robert Cambridge of Palo Alto; and their respective children.

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