J. Gary Taylor ’60
Deceased April 21, 2012
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Gary Taylor died in New York on April 21, 2012. Cancer diagnosed in November progressed rapidly until his death. He was 76. He left his wife, Pat Scharlin, and three sons: Geoffrey, Adam and Joshua. His fourth son, Luke, predeceased him. Tragically, Adam died just three weeks after Gary, also of cancer.
Gary was my roommate our first two years at Amherst. He had looked forward to returning to the Pioneer Valley, where he had attended prep school at Deerfield Academy several years before. His service in the Navy and his natural charisma made our freshman room a magnet for many of his new classmates who came to learn about life in the real world. Gary was happy to oblige. Of particular interest to many was the fact that Gary claimed that while serving his country, he had also arranged to share lodgings in Long Beach, California with a woman in her thirties. Needless to say, in the Fall of 1956 this was an experience that few, if any, of his young classmates had come close to sharing in any but their wildest fantasies.
Gary’s academic life was sometimes turbulent. I wrote in my statement for the 50th Reunion book of the classmate (there unidentified, but Gary, of course) who after expounding passionately and at some length to a question posed by Professor Baird was told that his “autobiographical remarks were not without interest, but hardly responsive to the question asked”. This led Gary to storm from the classroom, slamming the door in a way that seemed to shake the rafters and left those of us who remained wondering how this performance might affect his grade. I don’t know about the grade, but he was the only one of us who was invited for tea at the Bairds’ home that afternoon or the next day. From that point forward, “Teddy” Baird represented to Gary the very best that Amherst had to offer.
After a stint in Greenwich Village (described in his words in the 50th Reunion book as intended “to take a shot at a novel and the Beatnik life”) Gary returned to Amherst to complete his studies. He married Mary Ann Goodman and worked in New York as a copywriter at Esquire and Fortune before becoming General Manager at Bergdorf Goodman, the Goodman family business. From there he went on to environmental studies at Yale Forestry School, where he earned his doctorate in 1977. According to a former classmate at Yale whom I ran into several weeks after his death, he told her that his decision to go back to school came in the middle of a lengthy meeting at Bergdorf Goodman when he concluded that he had spent enough of his life discussing the subject of the length of the next season’s hemlines.
Gary’s Yale thesis adviser wrote to Pat after his death that Gary’s work demonstrated “an angle of vision that fused pragmatism and market factors and conscience”, that “opened real possibilities for making a difference” and that “brought into central focus the need to actually get things done rather than self-indulgence in simply advocating without attention to the organizational instruments to carry it out… . He brought sense and sensibility to the dreams of faculty and student peers”.
In 1981 Gary married Pat Scharlin, with whom he had worked in developing a series of high-level environmental seminars with Tufts University at its international center at Talloires, France, that were attended by major corporations, NGOs and organizations such as the World Bank. They collaborated on many other important environmental projects including assignments for their joint business, known as Environmental Group, Inc., and the publication for ten years of a bi-weekly newsletter for senior managers in Fortune 500 companies. In 2004 Yale published their Smart Alliance: How a Global Corporation and Environmental Activists Transformed a Tarnished Brand, the story of Chiquita Brands’ relationship with the Rainforest Alliance and how this changed its environmental profile. Gary’s advisor at Yale described the book as “a classic in workable conservation”. Their work led to travels to Europe, Haiti, Africa and other locations around the world. In the last years of his life, Gary and Pat devoted much effort to an attempt, so far unsuccessful, to commercialize a next-generation solar electric patent.
Gary loved singing in the University Glee Club of NYC. On my last trip to the hospital with Henry Neale we reminisced about his failed freshman audition for the Zumbyes. (I suffered the same fate on the same occasion.) He was singing Amherst and Chi Psi songs and telling and laughing at jokes until the very end.
From the beginning, Gary seemed larger than life. Emotions were always close to the surface. As he said in our 50threunion book, he “decided to take some chances and do something original (and, hopefully, important) in the world.” I think he succeeded, not only because of the accomplishments mentioned above, as well as others, but in the way he lived his life. He loved Pat, his family and his friends, and one of the many great blessings he left behind was to make sure all of them knew it.
Thomas V. Urmy, Jr. '60