A Champion for the Children. Thoughts from The Idle American.
May 24, 2013
Folks were commonly born into poverty in the 1930s. For some, it was abject–daily bread was never guaranteed, and families were continually on the move in survival mode.
Dr. O. C. (Mike) Taylor, born to migrant farm workers, was subjected to life’s most jagged edges after his birth in 1932. One of eight children and one of just three who survived early childhood years, he was a nomadic tag-along, accustomed to living in tents and at least once under a tree.
Fun-loving and frisky—yet fearlessly taking life by the throat—he was in schools from hither to yon before his folks found work at the Itasca Cotton Gin. It was there–where Itascans cheer for the Wampus Cats—that the family settled in. Taylor was there for grades 7-12, and that’s where his oft-repeated stories of adventures–and misadventures–were birthed.
His life was celebrated the other day at the United Presbyterian Church in Cleburne after the 81-year-old was felled by a stroke. It was a standing room only memorial service for this self-made man who was Texas’ youngest school superintendent at age 32. He was known for his unfailing humor, unbounded optimism and mischievous spirit.
Colleagues marveled at his uncanny ability to recognize potential in educators to place them where they could best serve. Credentials could be dealt with later. This was underscored by eulogist Riney Jordan, who was named “teacher of the year” during his initial year in education as a fifth-grade teacher at Grapevine ISD.
Taylor, early in his 11-year tenure as Grapevine superintendent, shocked Jordan one day with this edict: “Come Monday, you’re going to be principal of your school.” Jordan whined about lacking qualifications. Taylor, just short of fist-pounding, repeated the decision. Message received. Another time, Jordan delivered neatly paper-clipped teacher evaluations to Taylor’s office. Taylor scowled, “Next time, staple ‘em in the upper left corner at an angle so the pages can be easily flipped.” Clearly beyond eccentric at times, he enjoyed keeping colleagues guessing which times.
Patty, his wife of 27 years, says he lived life “his way.” She also thinks he completed most of his “want to’s.”
Dr. Taylor didn’t look for fights, but didn’t avoid them, either. Without his fierce determination, he’d have been a poor fit to guide a small school into metropolitan status mere years later with the world’s largest airport opening in GISD’s backyard.
He served there for 11 years before taking on racially torn Beaumont ISD for 13 years. There, he brushed off several threats made on his life.
He held on tight, smiling through much, negotiating when possible and using an iron fist when he must. They named buildings for him in both districts. He joked that the letters in his name on the Grapevine/Colleyville school were “a little small.” (A few years later, a board member at what is now G/C ISD, said his first mission was to get bigger letters!)
En route to his Grapevine interview, he told his wife that in the future, he would be “Mike” Taylor, not O. C. or—heaven forbid—Orace Cleveland. This was but one of his personal decrees that held up.
One trustee asked about his church preference. “We attend the Presbyterian Church,” Mike said, noting zero response. “But my wife is Methodist.” Still no response. “But we’re thinking of joining the Baptists.” After a long pause, he added, “If I get the job, we’ll attend the church of your choice.
With two degrees from Texas Wesleyan and a doctorate from North Texas, Taylor surrounded himself with competent colleagues, a dozen destined to become superintendents.
In retirement, he traveled the world, skied the Matterhorn, golfed and read.
Failing eyesight in recent years interrupted much.
Officiant at the service was Rev. Kenny Rigoulot, the Taylors’ minister who himself attended G/CISD schools.
Taylor died in contentment that his grandson, Chase, finished college a few days earlier. He was likewise proud of Baleigh, a junior in high school and her mother, Holley Hancock, now principal of a Beaumont elementary school. At age 17, she was hired as a BISD school receptionist.
Stories of this educational and community icon will be shared by colleagues for many years. There will be many smiles.
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.