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Blind journalist turned radio personality dies aged 50

A blind journalist who started out in the regional press before becoming a well-known radio personality has died at the age of 50.

Mark Turnbull, who is a former president of the National Union of Journalists, worked for The Northern Echo and Darlington & Stockton Times in the 1980s and also reported on darts and snooker for the Press Association.

He went on to spend 18 years working in local radio in the North East as a presenter and producer at the former BBC Radio Cleveland, now BBC Tees, and was a president of the NUJ for a year in the late 1990s.

Tributes have been paid to Mark after he died at James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough following a short illness.

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “Mark Turnbull made a great contribution to the development of the NUJ, in particular by showing that journalists with disabilities can play a full role in the union’s work as valued members of our community.”

Mark was blind from birth and one of his career highlights was securing the first broadcast interview with Tony Blair after he stepped down as Prime Minister.

He also once played piano with Frank Sinatra at London’s Savoy Hotel where they were both enjoying a drink.

Peter Barron, editor of the Northern Echo, tweeted on Monday: “Sad to see in today’s Northern Echo that blind journalist and broadcaster Mark Turnbull has died. I knew Mark well – amazing character.”

NUJ Northern organiser Chris Morley said: “Mark was a compelling personality who swept up all before him, either as a strong member of our national executive council, or socially when he was wickedly indiscrete with his trademark gin and tonic in hand.

“As a fellow NEC member at the time I was always amazed at this capacity to absorb his brief – especially as vice president and then president – and then fire the bullets to the targets that needed hitting.

“I will never forget how, as president, he took the time and trouble to attend a fundraising skittles social for one of the smallest branches in the union at Stourbridge, cheerily negotiating himself on and off the late night trains to make sure he could support his members who had asked him to come.”

Mark was also believed to be the first blind chairman of a magistrates court in England, serving at Teesside Combined Courts.

He leaves his mother Julie, who he lived with for most of his life.