International lawyer, humanist, man of letters and languages, writer, scholar--Lorenzo ("Renzo") Turco was born on June 3, 1896, in Castelnuovo Don Bosco, Provincia di Asti, Italy, the son of Evasio and Cesarina Turco. During World War I, he served in the Italian Army, achieving the rank of captain, motorized artillery, and was awarded a bronze medal for military valor.
In 1920, Renzo Turco graduated from the University of Turin with the degree of Juris Doctor, and then spent a post-graduate year in 1921 emphasizing business studies at the Turin Institute of Commercial Sciences.
With graduate and post-graduate degrees and a license to practice law in Italy, Renzo Turco nevertheless traveled to the United States in 1922 seeking a better life. He enrolled in the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law--the Common Law--heretofore unfamiliar and probably even forbidding to an Italian lawyer who studied the great and ancient Roman and Continental juridical systems, which had been mastered in Italian and Latin, while British and American law as taught so far from home would now require a thorough familiarity with American English.
Turco was equal to the challenge. The rigors of recent legal studies in Italy and the habits of organized thought forged in him by the undergraduate disciplines of classical languages, literatures and history were a winning combination, ensuring him academic success. He graduated from the University of California, Boalt Hall, in 1926, receiving an LLB degree, and successfully passed the California Bar Examination. He thus began his brilliant legal career that spanned sixty years of California practice, as well as practice in Italy to include many cases for transnational clients and cases involving public and private international law. In 1928 he also became a U.S. citizen.
What better career for someone with an unquenchable thirst for know-ledge, and an ambition to write about ancient history after travelling to the four corners of the world. Cases and clients took him and his beloved Marguerite, whom he married in 1934, all over the globe. These journeys involved not only work for clients, but he also used the time to learn, absorb, and study so that he would return home with all the necessary information needed to lecture on current world affairs and to add chapters to his tome on ancient history and civilization. He was a frequent guest speaker for groups such as the Commonwealth Club, the World Affairs Council, and the First Unitarian Church.
Of course, at Il Cenacolo there would always be a standing forum at his disposal. Renzo Turco's life and Il Cenacolo's founding and development were inextricably and happily intertwined. He was, as we'd say, present at the creation, one of the original founding members of Il Cenacolo, formed in 1928, with others who were among the elite of Italy's diplomatic corps, its academics teaching in the United States, and other Italian businessmen. They would meet at Campiís Restaurant on Bush Street, owned and managed by the parents of past-president, Frederic Campagnoli. Performers from the San Francisco Opera would rendezvous there for a post-performance supper, and they would join these distinguished members, who would be soon referring to these memorable and animated gatherings as "Il Cenacolo."
From Campi's Il Cenacolo, members were to graduate to a comfortable two-room suite at the Fairmont Hotel, where there were ample facilities to dine, enjoy drinks, exchange stories, hold formal discussions, maintain an Italian and English reading library, and play poker. Here Cenacolisti found not only every European and American periodical worth reading, but also, on several evenings a week, some agreeable company and lively conversation.
World War II brought many disruptions and changes to peoples' lives. The Fairmont Hotel would now need the Il Cenacolo quarters for more important activities involving the war effort, and so that era for Il Cenacolo became another chapter in its distinguished past. More seriously, there was the issue of relocation of certain people for security reasons away from the Pacific Coast. Renzo Turco, always outspoken and never one to decline a speaking engagement, was under scrutiny, having attracted attention by lecturing on the Rome-Berlin Axis at the German Pioneer House in East Oakland.
He was ordered to leave San Francisco and relocated to Chicago. Ironically, this potential threat to national security would be employed in Chicago as tax counsel for the Internal Revenue Service. And so there he would remain living and working until the war ended and he could return to San Francisco to pick up where his life had been unceremoniously but understandably interrupted.
His professional, personal, and social life then flowed at the same brisk pace. There were clients; there were voyages (a trip in 1955 from Karachi to Milan by car and another from Capetown to Cairo); and there was a whole host of organizations in which Turco was a major presence: the Italian War Veterans Association of which he was a founder and director, the Vita Nuovo Lodge of the Sons of Italy, the Commonwealth Club, the Leonardo da Vinci Society, and Il Cenacolo. And there were still invitations to lecture on law, history, art history, and travel.
Il Cenacolo members cherished their beloved Renzo not only as one of their oldest and most distinguished members, but most importantly, as one of the original founders who was young when Il Cenacolo was young, whose life and times matched Il Cenacolo's, and who could recall with vivid clarity the eight exciting decades of the twentieth century that he had endured and which he could still describe lucidly, rhetorically, credibly, eloquently, and, when in the mood, humorously.
In the late 1970s, Turco's warm company was constantly sought by Cenacolisti, eager to be close to a living vestige of Il Cenacolo's Golden Age and to someone so representative of Il Cenacolo's humanistic premises.
Turco died quietly in his home in San Francisco before dawn on October 20, 1983. Five days later, he was entombed in the local cemetery of Castelnuovo Don Bosco, Asti.
Although he was our last surviving founding member, his quest for knowledge will continue with the Renzo Turco Scholarship for Italian Language studies established in 1984 by Il Cenacolo in his memory, and awarded annually to a deserving and distinguished student from one of our Bay Area universities and colleges.