Award-winning columnist, journalist and storyteller extraordinaire Randy Turner was remembered by friends and family the same way he lived: with tales and laughter.

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Award-winning columnist, journalist and storyteller extraordinaire Randy Turner was remembered by friends and family the same way he lived: with tales and laughter.

The Burton Cummings Theatre in downtown Winnipeg was filled for a celebration of Turner's life Monday afternoon. The longtime Free Press writer died March 13 at age 57, after a year-long battle with cancer.

Turner was widely known for his sports, news and features writing, building a 31-year career in journalism by making people laugh, cry and leaving them wanting more. His Twitter account had more than 65,000 followers, more than Manitoba’s premier.

Turner's brother, nephew, and some of his closest friends brought the character behind the storyteller to life for the final formal tribute attended by family, friends and colleagues.

"As I grew older, I realized he could take anything and make it funny," nephew Zach Turner said, recalling the times he would come to Winnipeg to play hockey as a kid and stay with his uncle and his two cats, in a house painted orange.

Winnipeg Free Press publisher, Bob Cox, centre, and other staff listen to speakers at the service.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Free Press publisher, Bob Cox, centre, and other staff listen to speakers at the service.

Younger brother Kent Turner struggled with his composure as he recalled the boy who became a writer "married to his work," and still stayed a small-town kid from Boissevain who loved to laugh.

"Now when I come to Winnipeg, it seems a little emptier and there’s no reason to go on Twitter anymore. I will always miss Randy," he said.

Longtime friend and former Free Press co-worker Maureen Fitzhenry organized the hour-long program, with speakers, songs, and a poignant 15-minute slideshow featuring photos — mostly dated because Turner was a master at avoiding the camera — and tweets, his and others. In the days following his death, Twitter was flooded with tributes from politicians to ordinary folk to big-city sports writers.

Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg, speaks at the Celebration of Life for the Winnipeg Free Press writer Randy Turner.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg, speaks at the Celebration of Life for the Winnipeg Free Press writer Randy Turner.

Turner was nominated seven times for a National Newspaper Award, winning it twice. He wrote three books for the newspaper, including Back in the Bigs and The First Season, both about the return of the National Hockey League to Winnipeg.

Turner never missed a chance to cast the spotlight on someone else to make them shine, Fitzhenry said. His secret was the uncanny ability to listen and turn a tale into a yarn that made people want to read more, speakers said Monday.

Bob Irving, longtime voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on CJOB radio, brought the audience to laughter with the story how Turner shocked himself, when he discovered he’d let his driver’s licence expire, six months earlier. And how the City of Winnipeg came to cut his grass for him.

"We all know Randy Turner was a gifted writer but he wasn’t always as thorough in day-to-day life. He was not big on upkeep or yard maintenance," Irving said.

But when it came to humour and storytelling, he was top notch.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca