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980 CKNW: Five facts you didn’t know about late former PM John Turner

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (second right) and cabinet ministers Pierre Trudeau (left to right) John Turner, and Jean Chretien talk in Ottawa on April 4, 1967.
Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson (second right) and cabinet ministers Pierre Trudeau (left to right) John Turner, and Jean Chretien talk in Ottawa on April 4, 1967. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Mitchell

John Turner, who died on Saturday at 91 years old, was known for his short, 78-day stint as Canada’s 17th prime minister.

But did you know that he qualified for the Olympics? Or that his mother was the first female chancellor of the University of British Columbia?

Here are five facts you didn’t know about the personal life of John Turner:

1.) He qualified for the Olympics

Turner was known as “the golden boy” of the Liberal Party of Canada, but during his time at university, he was known as a star athlete. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, he excelled as a track sprinter, and in the mid-1940s, held the Canadian record for the 100-yard dash.

He even qualified for the 1948 Olympics in London, but was unable to attend due to an injured knee.

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2.) He was a gifted student

At just 16 years old, Turner enrolled at the University of British Columbia where he later graduated with honours in 1948.He was awarded a coveted Rhodes Scholarship and continued his studies at the University of Oxford where he obtained multiple degrees.Turner, who was bilingual, even studied at the University of Paris.
Click to play video 'Former Prime Minister John Turner dies at 91' Former Prime Minister John Turner dies at 91
Former Prime Minister John Turner dies at 91

3.) His mother was a legend in her own right

Turner’s mother, Phyllis Gregory Ross, was born in Rossland, B.C., in 1903.

According to the City of Vancouver archives, she held a UBC bachelor’s degree in economics and political science with first class honours. She later travelled to Europe where she studied at Philips University of Marburg in Germany and the London School of Economics.

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As a young widow raising two children, Ross also held the most senior position a woman could hold at the time in the Canadian civil service.

She was the first female chancellor of UBC and appointed to the Order of Canada, as well as made a commander of the Order of the British Empire, thanks to her contributions in economics during the Second World War.

Read more: Former prime minister John Turner dies at 91

4.) He nearly married Princess Margaret

Princess Margaret and John Turner, who was then 30 years old, shared a dance at a party to celebrate the new Government House in Victoria.

Rumours began to swirl about a possible romance between the pair.

Years later, the princess wrote in a letter, which was obtained and published by the Daily Mail, that she “nearly married him.”

Turner eventually married Geills McCrae Kilgour, a systems engineer with IBM and grand-niece to First World War doctor and poet John McRae.

Read more: Commentary: Why there won't be a fall federal election

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5.) He saved John Diefenbaker’s life

While on vacation in Barbados in 1965, Turner noticed a man in the ocean struggling to swim.

It was John Diefenbaker, former Progressive Conservative prime minister and then-Leader of the Opposition.

Turner, who was a strong swimmer, jumped in the water and pulled him to shore.