Lewis Turrell, the first non-Scottish winner of a Highland Society of London Gold Medal, died on April 21, 2011, after a lengthy fight with lung cancer, at home in Auckland, New Zealand with his family at his side.
Described as “a giant” on the New Zealand scene, Turrell was known for his prodigious work with pipe bands, particularly the Grade 1 City of Invercargill, a dominant force for many years in the 1960s and ’70s on the antipodean circuit, and also in Scotland, where the band travelled to compete.
Turrell committed much of his later years to teaching, with many prominent pipers at some point learning under his wing. He was also a frequent and well regarded adjudicator at competitions in New Zealand and Australia. For many years he was the owner and proprietor of Lewis Turrell’s House of Scotland, a business that grew to be one of the major retailers of piping and drumming merchandise.
Although he won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1958 with the somewhat obscure piobaireachd “The Rout of the MacPhees,” Turrell was not a regular solo competitor, preferring to focus on pipe bands. His winning of the medal was reportedly something of a surprise to him.
Turrell travelled from New Zealand to Scotland in 1958 by ship, a journey that lasted some six weeks. He received instruction in piobaireachd from the legendary Pipe-Major Donald MacLeod, who suggested that he enter for the Gold Medal. Turrell contended that he never seriously expected to even get a mention, but ultimately was announced as the winner. The following week he won the Piobaireachd event at the Royal Braemar Highland Gathering, and reportedly never competed in solo competitions again.
He said that when he won the Gold Medal neither he nor anyone else were conscious of the fact that he was the first non-Scot to gain the prize. It wasn’t until Braemar when someone pointed out his feat to him, indicating perhaps that nationalism was a different mindset then.
One antipodean piper described Lewis Turrell’s passing as “an end of era.”
On behalf of the piping and drumming world, we extend our sympathies at this sad time to Lewis Turrell’s survivors and his many friends.