WE HAVE received very sad news of the passing of Ron ‘Turner’ Smith.

He died aged 95 on Boxing Day after a long illness.

I first met the engineer-politician-construction supremo when I was a teenage political activist.

He was the only Labour party activist in the West Wight, and together, we would trundle around the estates collecting Labour party subs on Sunday mornings.

Ron soon became a printing customer of mine for his Totland-based factory, Turner Smith (Engineering) Ltd.

When I set up my printing business, Solent-G, in 1967, following my employment at the IW County Press, I took over his small workshop behind his flat on Totland Broadway.

Turner, as we always called him ­— not only the name of his firm of lathe turners, but the maiden name of his wife, Audrey ­— moved to his new factory in Yarmouth.

Before long, he handed over the flat itself to me and my family, having built his own house in Weston Road.

Ron became a minority partner in Solent-G.

We became firm friends and he, being a generation older, acted as something of a mentor.

He very generously introduced me to his engineering customers, most of whom had printing requirements.

I would travel to the mainland with him regularly to accompany him on his customer rounds.

My brother, Ronnie, was also involved with Solent-G, and it was in our office one day in the summer of ‘68 that Turner suggested to Ronnie that he might like to apply for a part-time job as a fund-raiser for The IW Indoor Swimming Pool Association (IWISPA) charity.

Ron Smith was involved with the cause, and he brought in his friend and committee member, Steve Ross ­— later MP for the Island and later still, Lord Ross of Newport.

A key festival supporter, it was Steve who found the ‘hell field’ site near Godshill for the 1968 festival.

The account of how Ronnie accepted the fund-raising post and came up with the idea of a ‘pop’ festival is told elsewhere (see: Stealing Dylan from Woodstock, 2015).

The historic first IW Festival took place on the August bank holiday weekend, and it was due to the enormously generous and fearless efforts of Ron Smith that the festival site got built at all.

His engineering experience, boundless energy, great physical stature, and authoritative command of scaffolders, carpenters, electricians and other subcontractors, ensured that the venue was complete in record-breaking time.

There had been only one week for construction between harvesting the barley and the day of the festival.

Afterwards, when we asked Ron if he would be the site manager again for the following year, he asked what he would get out of it.

“What do you want?” asked Ronnie.

“Well, oi s’pose an electric lawn mower would be sumthing,” he replied in modest, avuncular fashion.

In 1969, the festival and its venue, and Ron’s accomplishments, were on an altogether more heroic scale.

This time, the arena and stage ­— even by 21st century standards ­— were recognisable as fit for a modern rock festival.

Our site manager surpassed himself, only to go massively further in 1970, building the gigantic site for what was to become the world’s biggest rock festival.

Having acquired the title of site director, he once again worked against the clock, translating the site plan and stage design into tangible reality.

The area, stage, toilets, shops, access roadways and the rest ­— the festival city ­— all sprung up miraculously on the windswept plains of Afton at the foot of the downs, all in three weeks flat, due to the staggering capabilities of our towering stalwart, Turner Smith.

Only this affable, no-nonsense Brummie engineer could have completed the site construction, on time and in the face of enormous odds, with the triple enemies of radical wreckers from the right, ditto from the left, and the unusually severe August weather conditions leading up to the event.

Amid the star-studded acclamations and the political controversies surrounding the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, the extraordinary talents and accomplishments of Ron Smith in creating that festival city are often eclipsed.

For my part, I never cease to remember with the greatest admiration what he achieved for us in that extraordinary summer, five decades ago.

Following the festivals, I lost touch with Ron for many years, and there are others who will be able to write about his subsequent accomplishments.

I was aware that he became a County Councillor and that he acted as Steve Ross’s election agent for the famous 1974 defeat of our festival nemesis, Mark Woodnutt.

Ron threw his lot in with the Liberals to form an early-day democratic alliance, with his presence as a well-known Labour man helping persuade erstwhile Labour voters to support the Liberal candidate.

The victory for the liberal left was stupendous.

I did catch up with Ron while he was organising the restoration of the imperilled Dimbola Lodge, salvaging the historic house and restoring it to the splendid working monument it is today.

Once again, his boundless energy and construction skills were applied ­— and on a voluntary basis –­— to bring a highly ambitious undertaking to fruition.

Ron also had a hand in the eventual creation of the indoor swimming pool in the West Wight, coming full circle from the 1968 IWISPA fund-raising effort and its association with the first IW Festival.

My daughter Caroline and I were fortunate to meet up with Ron at his home in Totland in 2014 to talk about our mutual festival experiences, as we researched the history of the festivals for our books.

Sadly, Audrey had already passed away, after a long illness and a residency in Totland’s Inglefield nursing home ­— our former office HQ for the IW festivals, and where Ron was able to spend time with her every day.

How strange it must have seemed to the former site director to find himself in Inglefield for that purpose.

I raise a toast to Ron (Turner) Smith, after a long, fulsome and heroic life.

Rest in peace, ‘sport’.

Ronald O Smith (1925-2019). Former member of the Isle of Wight County Council and former Site Director of the Isle of Wight Festivals (1968-70) .

A personal tribute by Ray Foulk, co-promoter of the Isle of Wight Festivals (1968-70).