I was working in Santa Fe covering the Legislature in 2005 for Taylor’s final session after having represented District 33 for 18 years. The farewell ceremony for him in the rotunda of the Roundhouse was a genuine display of bipartisan affection. Even those who disagreed with him fiercely on policy couldn’t help but love and respect the man.
As I interviewed Taylor in his office before that ceremony, I was struck by his strange combination of gentleness and tenacity. He didn’t have a cross word for anyone, but was relentless in speaking up for those who had the least.
A former teacher and education administrator, Taylor’s primary focus was often on New Mexico’s children. He was commonly referred to as “the conscience of the Legislature,” because Taylor would always make sure that his fellow legislators didn’t forget about the children and the powerless.
Along with education, Taylor was also a strong advocate for a more humane juvenile justice system. For the past 17 years, the J. Paul Taylor Social Justice Symposium has brought experts, scholars and policymakers to Las Cruces to study and better understand the issue.
When Rep. Garcia introduced her memorial in 2013, it seemed unlikely that the adventures would continue for another decade. Taylor was 92 at the time.
I learned of Taylor’s death Sunday in an email from the governor's office.
“You would be hard-pressed to find an individual as passionate about the people, culture and communities of New Mexico as J. Paul Taylor,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said. “I have no doubt that the compassion and integrity he demonstrated throughout his 102 years of life will be felt for hundreds of years to come.”
Taylor lived for so long that in the past few years he became noted for his longevity. And for his generosity in donating his family home to the state. Living to the age of 102 is an accomplishment, but it pales in comparison to what Taylor was able to do in those years.
As he looked back on his time in the Legislature during that final session, Taylor reminisced on his days as a young boy growing up in Mesilla and the lessons of both hard work and compassion that he learned from his parents.
Work in the Legislature is never done. Especially when that work involves improving the lives of children living in poverty. But I got the sense that Taylor was rightfully proud of all they had done and ready to let others fight the good fight.
We will never know for certain how many lives of New Mexicans were improved by the public service of J. Paul Taylor, but we do know for certain that he will be missed.
To quote the memorial, “Now, therefore, be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the state of New Mexico that the adventurous life of its former colleague and revered fellow New Mexican, J. Paul Taylor, be celebrated and that his devotion to the people of New Mexico be recognized.”
Walter Rubel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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