Turner V. Stokes’ favorite outfit was when he was wearing — as he liked to say — nothing but a smile.
The 90-year-old leader of various nudist organizations died Saturday from prostate cancer in Nanjemoy, Md.
Born in Washington, D.C., in 1927, Stokes enlisted in the Navy in 1945 and later worked for military contractors testing electronic equipment.
He told the Washington Post’s Lee Hockstader in 1984 that when he was younger, he sometimes went skinny-dipping with his cousin in the Chesapeake Bay and remembered as a teenager seeing his first nudist magazine, called Sunshine and Health. But it wasn’t until he turned 50 that he persuaded his wife at the time to join him at a nudist camp in Pennsylvania.
The Post reports that he said he was drawn to nudism for its “physical feeling,” which he felt was “mentally stimulating” and gave a “feeling of freedom.”
In the 1980s, Stokes fancied himself a “naturist,” which, he explained to the Post, was different from a “nudist.” Naturists preferred to be nude in nature — not confined to a camp or resort like nudists.
When local officials on the Eastern Shore of Virginia tried to crack down on nude sunbathing on Assateague Island in 1984, Stokes organized a legal battle to challenge the ban, the Post reported at the time. Through the National Capital Naturists, a group he co-organized, Stokes also created and sold T-shirts with a cheeky phrase: “Bare Assateague.”
He served as president of one of the largest nudist organizations, the American Association for Nude Recreation, which was started in 1931. His friends and associates describe him as an affable man dedicated to educating others about nudism at every opportunity.
His longtime friend and colleague Bev Price, current president of AANR, says the fight over keeping Assateague’s beach nude-friendly helped spur Stokes’ activism.
“I think he personally enjoyed that beach,” Price told NPR, “and when it was threatened, he said, ‘Over my nude body. I’m not going to let you take my beach away.’ ”
Erich Schuttauf, the interim executive director of AANR, met Stokes in 1998.
Stokes was especially active in the area surrounding Washington, D.C., where he lived, according to Schuttauf. Stokes often headed to Capitol Hill to try to persuade politicians that nude recreation was indeed legitimate. But he didn’t try to just proselytize politicians. To Stokes, every person he met was a potential nudist convert.
Schuttauf recalls one particular trip he took with Stokes to Capitol Hill. Their car’s battery died, so they called a tow truck.
“That could have been for anyone else a frustrating event,” Schuttauf says. But Stokes persevered and made the best of the situation. When the tow truck arrived, Stokes began talking to the driver about all the local nudist beaches.
“He had literature and he pulled out some of the incidentals, like a fountain pen that had our number 1-800-TRY-NUDE on it. I think he made a friend and probably [an AANR] member that day,” Schuttauf recalls. “He was a mover and shaker.”
Stokes is survived by his children and stepchildren from his two marriages, Sue Stokes Bridgett Becker, Robert Bruce Stokes, Shannon Donoway and Tim Kinehan.