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Taylor, Carol and my son Luka at Luka's first birthday party, a little over a year ago, when Taylor was a few days from his seventy-third birthday. He died the morning of May 5.

Never a Farewell, Taylor

An obituary page isn’t the sort of place where the Rev. Dr. Taylor Scott IV’s name should be appearing. Not now. Not, if any of us could have helped it, ever: His name, his borderless mind, his humanitarian’s generosity prolifically filled the pages and hearts of life at its most vibrant — at the pulpit, in academic journals, in protest marches, around the dinner table, at his friends’ and family’s side. He was life. His death the morning of May 5, 2006, at age 74, with his beloved wife, Carol, his daughter, Carter, and his son, Taylor, at his side, at his home in Palm Coast, was — like the cancer it rode in — an intrusion, rude and not soon forgiven, though weak and passing compared to his memory: Taylor left his mark. This isn’t his last word.

Born on Dec. 27, 1931, in Richmond, Va., Taylor (who was reading Malone’s biography of Thomas Jefferson at the time of his death), attended the University of Virginia, the Virginia Theological seminary, and Duke University, where he earned his master’s in theology (Magna Cum Laude) in 1965, and his doctorate in 1971. His life from then on was a discoverer’s log-book — priest, professor, parent, philosopher, he held teaching and administrative positions at Duke, North Carolina State, St. Christopher School for Boys in Virginia, UNC-Greensboro, D.C.’s National Cathedral, Francis Marion University, the University of Florida and Stetson University. His ecclesiastical experience would impress St. Peter. His honors and awards would make Peter envious. His engaged activism, for civil rights, against the Vietnam War, and more recently against the Iraq war, might have inspired even a saint.

Taylor and I met less than four years ago. He’d been reading my columns, writing me — almost always longhand — and inviting me to his home. My mistake was not to accept immediately: it was time lost. But when we finally met, it was a debate from word one — not from disagreements, but from a spiral of ideas neither of us could control, and all of us, Carol and the friends we’d have around our mutual tables included, abetted. The martinis played their part too. Taylor taught me to drink them, what seemed like triple martinis that, for a lightweight like me, had me reenacting the ellipses of some vague unaccounted for comet in and out from the sun of his bright-shining mind. Maybe that’s why his telescopic thoughts had a Hubble quality about them: the world was his deep field, the rest of us his firmament, and believe me, he made us—he made me—feel like stars. Earlier today I looked back at the letters to the editor he wrote to the News-Journal over the last four-some years. Every one of them a defense of my writings, some of them in rebuttal to others’ less-kind words, every one of them a bracing shot of intellectual adrenaline. But I should heed his words from one of these letters, even though they were written in a different context: “We should be trying to liberate ourselves from self-serving notions.”

In the end I imagine most of what we debated to came down to the meaning of America. He is the only man I know ever to have accused me of being too soft on American culture in my written criticism. It happened last November at Stetson University, where I was giving a talk on Islam and the Enlightenment (and where he taught). He stood up during the question and answer period and managed, as people generally don’t, to baffle me off my feet with his comment. He had about three decades on me. Somewhere along the way he lost a certain kind of love of country (the sentimental sort, the weakest sort) that I have clung to as immigrants I think naturally would. The surfeit of gratefulness in our naturalized DNA makes it so. He felt cheated by an idealism he couldn’t anymore square with what he saw around him — an America many of us don’t quite recognize, either: “ I am an Episcopal priest and retired religion professor,” he wrote four years ago in a published letter. “I, too, am tired of the cynical use of piety for patriotic ends and the avoidance of substantial discussion of social issues by the rhetoric of civil religion and fundamentalist nonsense.” But there were moments when his despondency about the United States would reach a point, or summon a certain bitterness (usually later in the evening) where I couldn’t follow or understand entirely, or square with his passions that were, at heart, born of what it means to be American. If he knew despair, it was the courageous kind that propelled him toward more engagement with the world, not less: Camus has by now kissed him on both cheeks, as I’m sure he was part of the welcoming committee in that damned hereafter, and taken him for a ride in the country, preferably not the kind that got Camus where he is now to start with. We can only wonder what manuscripts are in their lap.

That’s not much consolation for our loss, all of us who knew Taylor. There is no consolation. There’s only time, for those of us who’ll have it, to miss him without end. Let only grief, for his family’s sake, prove less resilient.


To read much more about Rev. Scott and share your thoughts and memories, please go to The Legacy of Reverend Dr. Taylor Scott, a blog set up in his memory.

More pictures and writings will be posted here soon.

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