Michael Thomas Turvey passed away peacefully on August 12 at the age of 81. He was a proud Cockney from London’s East End, the son of the late Nel and “Bonky” Turvey. A world-class track and field athlete, he was training for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when injuries forced him to pursue his interest in skilled movement in an academic rather than an athletic setting.
He went to the United States, ostensibly for a year, and earned a Master’s degree in physical education from the Ohio State University. He often lauded the flexibility of the American graduate educational system which allowed a jock to take courses in other departments. His stellar performance in a couple of courses in psychology convinced the department to offer him a place in their graduate program, where he earned a Ph.D. in Experimental and Physiological Psychology. He then accepted appointments on the faculty at the University of Connecticut in Storrs and the research staff at Haskins Laboratories in New Haven where he served for over 40 years. He never truly abandoned athletics, however, using his experience learning and performing skilled behaviors as a way to challenge experimental psychology to recognize and come to terms with the fundamental problem of movement coordination.
He eventually expanded that inquiry beyond humans, marveling at the achievements of organisms at all scales of nature. His pioneering work in the domain of the ecological approach to perception and action was multiply honored, both nationally and internationally, with lifetime achievement awards, honorary degrees, and even an “Ig Nobel” Prize in Physics. He was also a dedicated and world-renowned educator and mentor, producing four dozen PhDs and introducing over 20,000 UConn students to the field of psychology during his decades of teaching the general psychology course. He made a difference in the lives of not only his own students but also large numbers of young scholars and colleagues who he has inspired with his lectures and his willingness to discuss their work—especially if those discussions could happen in an English pub (easily achieved once he built Sweet William’s Pub in his own house). He will be remembered for his charm, generosity, kindness of spirit, curiosity, and unrelenting good cheer. He was predeceased by his brother Jack, sister Sheila, and nephew Michael.
He is survived by his devoted family: wife, scientific partner, and companion Claudia Carello; his somewhat psychotic cat Coco; brothers-in-law Al and Phil and sister-in-law Jane; nieces Julie and Seona, nephews Andy, Calum, Chris, and John; nieces- and nephew-in-law Carolyn, Lynne, Michelle, Sermin, Susan, and Tony; numerous great-nephews and nieces, and a few great-greats as well. He also rejoiced in the company of many dear friends and colleagues, relationships he nurtured throughout his life. Another life-long relationship was with Arsenal Football Club, a devotion inevitably shared by many of his friends (except, of course, the hopeless Spurs fans).
Calling hours will be Friday, August 18th 2023 from 5-7:00 PM at Potter Funeral Home, 456 Jackson Street, Willimantic, CT 06226. Funeral service will be held at the funeral home on Saturday, August 19th, 2023 at 12:00PM. Interment will follow at Storrs Cemetery. Donations in Michael’s memory can be made to the CESPA Alumni and Friends Fund (https://www.foundation.uconn.edu/fund/cespa-alumni-and-friends-fund/) to support the research center that was close to Michael’s heart.