John Turner, 63, of Deptford, one of the first openly gay physicians to treat HIV/AIDS patients in the earliest years of the epidemic, died Friday of complications of a neuromuscular disease at Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury.
After the first cases of acquired immune deficiency syndrome were identified in the United States in 1981, Dr. Turner was among the pioneers in identifying and treating the disease caused by the human immunodeficiency virus.
While an endocrinologist at Graduate Hospital in 1982, Dr. Turner identified his first case of AIDS.
"In the 1980s, 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 left his office less afraid than when he went in," said Jane Shull, executive director of Philadelphia FIGHT, an AIDS service group that Dr. Turner founded.
He began research and clinical trials at Graduate Hospital, where he treated hundreds of AIDS patients. For many years, Dr. Turner was also the medical adviser to ACT-UP Philadelphia and We the People, Philadelphia's first organization for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Before establishing his practice at Graduate Hospital, where he treated more than 900 AIDS patients, Dr. Turner was an endocrinologist at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and at Temple University Hospital.
He was active in numerous AIDS-related organizations, including the Philadelphia AIDS Task Force, ActionAIDS, and the Philadelphia AIDS Consortium.
Dr. Turner was born in Boise, Idaho, and he earned a bachelor's degree from Whitman College, in Walla Walla, Wash., and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a physician in the Navy from 1971 to 1973, stationed in Memphis, Tenn.
He married Pamela Gamble in the early 1960s. The couple had two sons before the marriage ended in divorce.
Mr. Turner and his companion of 28 years, Thom Bernardo, lived in South Philadelphia before moving to Deptford 10 years ago.
"John had to stop working in 1997 because of a neuromuscular disease that prevented him from walking. He shrunk from 6 feet, 2 inches to 5 feet, 7 inches before he died," Bernardo said. "He was a handsome, proud man. When he got sick, he went into seclusion. I protected him as much as I could."
In addition to his companion, Mr. Turner is survived by sons Mark and Stephen and his former wife.
Friends may visit at 10 a.m. today at St. Luke and the Epiphany Church, 330 S. 13th St. The funeral will follow at 11 a.m. Burial will be private.
Donations may be made to the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, 1211 Chestnut St., Suite 600, Philadelphia 19107.