Even though Bill Turlay has been a Navy fighter pilot and business executive, he still had a touch of the jitters reciting the oath of office Jan. 9 to become the newest member of the Vancouver City Council.

“While I was taking the oath, one of the things that really came [to mind] was, ‘I hope I don’t screw this up somehow,’” joked Turlay, who took the oath with his wife of 49 years, Stephanie, standing at his side.

Bill Turlay

Former Navy pilot and business executive Bill Turlay is the newest member of the Vancouver City Council.

Turlay is the newest face on the council, but he’s certainly no stranger to Vancouver politics. Turlay was runner-up to current council member Jack Burkman in 2009. Friends encouraged Turlay to run again in 2011, this time against incumbent city councilor Pat Campbell and neighborhood activist Anne McEnerny-Ogle.


Running on a platform in which he openly opposed the same $3.6 billion Columbia River Crossing Light Rail Project the council supports, Turlay won a run-off with McEnerny-Ogle by 51.6 percent.

Even though he may lean more conservative than some of his colleagues on the council, Turlay wants to bring balance – not acrimony – to the council.

“It’s an entirely different view sitting on the council as is it sitting out in the audience. Trust me on that one,” he said. “The volume of traffic, of issues that come before the City Council is actually overwhelming. It’s more than a full-time job.”

Northwest roots

Turlay, 76, was born in Portland and attended Jefferson High School. After attending Willamette University, in Salem, Ore., for three years, he entered the U.S. Navy as an aviation cadet, eventually serving as a pilot in Vietnam. He later earned a B.S. degree from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1965.

Bill Turlay

Bill Turlay takes his new seat next to Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt.

Turlay retired from military service in 1977 and entered private business. He first worked as director of operations for a Miami-based commercial air transport company that served destinations in the Caribbean and South America.


He and Stephanie returned to Portland in 1979. From there, Turlay went on to work in management positions for a commercial glazing company and an electronics startup. He also worked as a broker for a beverage company.

Business savvy

Turlay is proud of his business acumen and believes it gives him an important perspective on what it will take to support the local business community.

“I think it’s extremely important that some council members have business experience, have a good cross-section of different issues, so that we can discuss matters and make good policy decisions to help invigorate the local economy,” he said. “I would hope that members of the council would respect all of the life experience that I have.”

Colleagues share accolades

On the same evening that returning council members Bart Hansen and Larry Smith also took the oath of office, the council welcomed Turlay with open arms.

“One thing I will say about Bill, he is very passionate and I also appreciate how approachable he is,” said Hansen. “If you come right up to him, he’ll be the first person to greet you with a smile on your face and he really cares about what you have to say.”

The longest standing member of the council, Jeanne Harris, has known Turlay for a while and is excited with the perspectives he will bring.

“Bill is going to be kind of a leavening agent for the council,” she said. “He has a great sense of humor. He has a lot of experience, just in life. He’s going to come up to speed really quickly and be a very productive part of council, I think.”

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt echoed those sentiments, saying he is also optimistic about what this council will accomplish in 2012.

“I’m glad to be working with Mr. Turlay and again with Bart Hansen and Larry Smith,” he said. “We have some important decisions to make this year and we have a great group of individuals that will provide the leadership that our community expects and we’ll continue to move the city forward.”

Family support key

Turlay hastens to say that he wouldn’t have pursued the job without the support of his wife. That’s one of the reasons that Turlay used a Bible that Stephanie had received as a child while taking the oath of office. The couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in May.

“When you run for office, it puts a lot of strain on personal relationships with neighbors, friends, family life,” he said. “I was able to use my wife’s Bible that she got when she was 9 years old to swear upon . . . and I thought that that really made her feel good and as part of my experience of being a council member.”

Video captured by Miles Burnett and Scott Thompson
Video edited by Miles Burnett