John Taylor, 88, remembered as Gazette publisher, local leader
This article was originally published in the Seguin Gazette.
SEGUIN — A widely renowned "old-school" Texas newsman whose love for journalism might only have been surpassed by his adoration for this community has ended his tenure as publisher emeritus of the Seguin Gazette.
John Taylor, who bought the Gazette in 1954 and built it into a South Texas publishing powerhouse that printed more than 30 other newspapers, died Friday at a South Austin hospital. He was 88 years old.
Funeral arrangements were pending Monday at Goetz Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, Taylor's family asks donations be made to the Alzheimer's Association. For information, log on to the association's website at www.alz.org.
Seguin Gazette Editor and Publisher Jeff Fowler did not know Taylor personally, but is familiar with his contributions both in the newspaper Taylor built and in his service to his community and his profession.
"John Taylor was of an era when newspapers were king and he built the Seguin Gazette accordingly," Fowler said Monday. "He left a legacy in Texas journalism and an unsurpassed example in public service — in 'giving back' — to his community that should inspire us all. I would be proud if in my service to the industry and our community I was able to achieve a fraction of the accomplishments John Taylor managed in a long and important career."
Former Managing Editor Kathie Ninneman didn't work with Taylor, but was familiar with his contributions to the newspaper and the city and visited with him whenever he stopped by the offices of the Seguin Gazette.
"I was very saddened to hear of his passing," Ninneman said Monday. "He was part of that generation of journalists that didn't just report what was happening around town. He felt a responsibility to his community and for that, Seguin will be forever in his debt."
John Clifton Taylor Jr. was born an only child on Aug. 8, 1925 in Gonzales, Texas to John Clifton Taylor Sr. and Eva Lincecum Kolar.
He attended San Marcos Military Academy, graduated from Gonzales High School and joined the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he served from 1943-45.
Survivors include daughters, Elizabeth (Beth) Ann Taylor of Cedar Creek, Kay Taylor of Gallup, N.M., and Eva Elise (Lisa) Weinstein and her husband, Dean, of Hunt, Texas; son-in-law Ron Watts of Austin; nieces B'lise Burlaos and Virginia Bromley; grandchildren Laura Jorgensen, Carol Williams, Jane Angelus, Bryan Stephens, Judy Weinstein and Rachel Thea Monahan and many great-grandchildren.
He was predeceased by his parents and his stepfather, Bill Kolar; his wife of 45 years, Juanita Taylor; his son, John Clifton Taylor III and daughters, Nancy Lee Taylor Watts, Marilyn Margaret Taylor and Bonnie Lou Taylor.
Taylor knew what his career would be at a young age and he attended Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, graduating with a degree in journalism.
"I always enjoyed good writing and have always felt that good writing can best be learned in the newspaper field," Taylor told the Texas Press Association. "Proper communication is a must in any field."
Taylor went to work as the San Marcos correspondent for The San Antonio Light, where daughters Beth and Lisa report their father experienced one of the highlights of his career in newspapers — being kissed by actress Olivia de Havilland.
Upon graduation from Southwest Texas State, Taylor joined the editorial department at the Light.
"The Light was a typically tough, but top-edited Hearst newspaper," Taylor told TPA. "(My) years with the Light were by far the most meaningful training period of my life. Immediate know-how and ability were far more important then to keep jobs (and) I wasn't equipped with either. But I made it up with hustle."
As newsmen used to say, Taylor had ink under his fingernails. But he was also cut from the kind of cloth where he understood the importance of community service and of service to his profession, in both leadership and mentoring roles.
He left the Light in 1954 to purchase a then-struggling Seguin Gazette, moved here and took over the operations of the newspaper from top to bottom — making journalism a Taylor family affair by placing his wife and some of their children in various roles in the newspaper.
"We did articles," Beth recalled Saturday. "We wrote the Weinert Review at the school. I remember Dad telling us, 'Get names! People want to read names!' I really liked working at the Gazette."
Later, Beth would lay out ads in the days before automated computer composing, stripping them up in hot wax.
Lisa, who was younger, opened envelopes.
In 1960, Taylor went on a two-month study mission to Europe, including Eastern Bloc countries and the Soviet Union as part of the National Editorial Association, representing the American news media in a then-unprecedented look behind the Iron Curtain. As part of that trip, Taylor visited the Kremlin — then extremely rare for any American, much less a journalist.
"He just loved his work," Lisa recalled. "He was proud of working for the Light and of what he learned there. He was also proud of growing the Gazette."
Taylor made the Seguin Gazette the first newspaper in South Texas to convert to the photo offset printing process in 1960.
By the time Taylor sold the paper in 1979 to become its "publisher emeritus," its presses were printing 30-odd newspapers from around South Texas as what was called the Trans-Texas Publishing Company. That year, Taylor was the Texas representative on the National Newspaper Association in Washington, D.C.
He also wrote the very first editorial in the Seguin Gazette-Enterprise when the two papers merged and became a daily.
During his time and his tenure at the Gazette and even afterward, Taylor headed all three of the Texas Press Associations and worked for a time on the staff of the statewide group. He was president of the South Texas Press Association in 1963-64, the Texas Gulf Coast Press Association in 1974-74 and the Texas Press Association in 1975-76.
He was vice chairman of the TPA's building committee and aided in the search for the property that later became TPA's permanent home.
Ed Sterling, TPA's director of member services, lauded Taylor's contributions to Texas journalism and to his association Monday.
"John Taylor's exemplary service as president of the Texas Press Association attests to the high regard newspapers across the state had for him," Sterling said. "Taylor and others who have served as presidents of this organization take pride in the unique honor TPA has bestowed upon them, and in the trust placed in them by their peers."
Along the way, Taylor earned boxes and boxes of journalism and civic awards — including more than 50 regional, statewide and national first place awards in journalism, and more than 250 second- through fifth-place awards.
But the ones he was most proud of, his daughters say, were the Gazette's five statewide community service awards for his contributions to Seguin and Guadalupe County.
One of them was for the newspaper's leadership and help in recovering and returning the remains of Juan Seguin to a place of honor on a hillside in his namesake community. Taylor and his newspaper also took pride in starting and carrying on the campaign to build a new city/county hospital here, and he likewise poured his energy into the establishment of the Seguin-Guadalupe County Coliseum, which was designed, built and prepared for the 1976 Bicentennial celebration — an effort for which he was presented with the key to the city of Seguin, a gesture by a grateful community that recognized Taylor's role in his adopted hometown.
"He loved Seguin," Lisa said. "He gave his life to this community."
Among his civic contributions, Taylor was a longtime director of the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, serving 21 years under appointment of four governors ending with Ann Richards, including stints as the board's secretary and treasurer.
GBRA General Manager Bill West said Taylor was a member of the board that first hired him, and expressed sorrow at learning of Taylor's passing.
West said the newsman, who was working on a written history of GBRA when overtaken in his final illness, expressed some disappointment when Republican Gov. George W. Bush didn't reappoint Democrat Taylor to his post, and GBRA intervened on his behalf.
On Aug. 20, 1997, Taylor was appointed to the honorary title of board member emeritus — and continued in his changed role to participate in the board's work.
"That pretty much tells the story right there," West said Monday. "That kind of institutional and corporate recall is extremely valuable."
Taylor was also a member of the St. Mary's University Board of Governors. Here in Seguin, he was chairman of the Bicentennial Commission, a Rotarian, Boy's Club director, Seguin Youth Center president, a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the Elks, the Jaycees and the American Legion, among many others.
Believing a publisher should not be involved in politics, Taylor only dabbled in local politics after retiring from journalism. He was chairman of the county Democratic Party and in his one bid for state office, Taylor lost to a young and up-and-coming Edmund Kuempel.
"Being a decent editor is a very lonely profession," Taylor wrote for TPA. "I've steered clear of becoming involved with any political aspirations or cliques, preferring to let our staff report things as they are. I've always been convinced that it's impossible for an honest newspaper to remain objective to an issue, individual or group when the editor or publisher is too close to it. The whole thing has been very, very tough at times, but it's the most exciting and best all-around teaching profession in the world."
And teaching and mentoring were very important to Taylor, his granddaughter, Laura Jorgensen, recalled.
Taylor took Jorgensen to three National Newspaper Association conferences in the 1980s and included her younger sister, Carol, on the last.
"We had the privilege of meeting congressmen and dignitaries from other countries," Jorgenson said. "I met the ambassadors to the former Yugoslavia, the Philippines and Turkey, all being hosted in their respective embassies."
On one of those trips, Jorgenson met journalism icon and longtime UPI White House correspondent Helen Thomas.
"Grandaddy made sure I understood her contribution to women and to journalism," Jorgensen said. "Later, I was inspired to get my degree in journalism from UT."
Jorgensen worked for a while producing copy for a major news station, but found the journalism life was not family friendly. Today, she teaches writing as an English teacher.
"I feel that writing is my gift from my grandfather," she said. "I learned immensely from him and apply those lessons every day."
Taylor also enjoyed the lifelong respect of two adoring daughters, as expressed on Saturday, and that respect was undimmed in his twilight years in spite of the ravages of Alzheimer's, which he fought to his last day.
"We love him very much and we always looked up to him," Lisa said.
"We hope he's finally at peace," Beth said.
The funeral service is scheduled for 2:00 PM on Saturday June 14 at Goetz Funeral Home in Seguin. The interment will follow at the Thompsonville Cemetery, Thompsonville TX