A Life: Robert Taylor, 1934 - 2012; 'He Was Always Putting You First'
White River Junction — At a time when school districts throughout the Upper Valley were debating the need for a full-time athletic director, Hartford High School already had one. He just didn’t want to be one.
Robert Taylor enjoyed what came with the job, but he also gained a measure of satisfaction in the classroom, teaching math. When once given the choice of concentrating solely on athletics, Taylor demurred.
“There was a point where they decided to make it full-time, and he would not accept that at all,” Taylor’s wife, Pat, recalled last week. “He wanted to stay in the classroom. He loved teaching as much as coaching.”
Although he taught algebra, a symbol from geometry – the circle – and the people who populated it, as well as the means by which he recruited them, defined Taylor’s life. Taylor, who taught at Hartford for 40 years and supervised its athletic department for nearly as long until his retirement in 1998, died of natural causes on Oct. 10 at the age of 78.
“His retirement had nothing to do with full-time; it was way back, probably the end of the ’70s or beginning of the ’80s (when it was proposed),” said Pat Taylor, who taught science at Hartford. “He didn’t want it to be full-time, so they left it the way it was. He managed to work around it.”
He made sure to have plenty of help, which usually wasn’t hard to find.
An AD’s job goes well beyond hiring coaches. Much of it evades the public’s eye: the scheduling of games, the ordering and organizing of equipment, the collecting and depositing money, the setting up of fields for play.
In some duties, Taylor had a willing ally in his daughter, Dawn.
“When I was 10, I started working for my dad by doing books for the athletic department,” she said. “Basically, I was counting the money after games, and I was also able to do the reconciling for the checking account for the athletic department. He got me started with the banking stuff, and that got me interested in accounting; I majored in it in college.”
Taylor also had his daughter’s aid, as well as the help of other students over the years, in field-lining chores. Taylor would keep a stash of candy in the glove compartment of his truck, using the sweets as a thank-you for the assistance.
When Dawn Taylor graduated Hartford High in 1980, her father recruited colleague Brian Trottier’s youngest daughter, Abby, to take her place. “Dawn informed her father that if he was going to have Abby help, he had to keep the supply of candy filled in the glove compartment,” Brian Trottier recalled.
“People were interested in helping him, because he was the type of person who appreciated that help,” Dawn Taylor added. “He never had a problem finding people willing to help out. … People never said no to him. That kind of thing made it a lot easier to be able to take advantage of both jobs.”
Bob Taylor had a longstanding interest in athletics. A Bennington, Vt., native, he was a three-sport athlete in Manchester, Vt., at what was then called Burr & Burton Seminary, and his early Hartford days – he started at Hartford Middle School in 1958 before the current high school was constructed – included occasional coaching stints.
“He felt that the (playing) field was an extension of the classroom,” said Trottier, who coached Hartford’s varsity softball team for two decades. “He made you feel like you were making a big contribution to the students by coaching. He always supported you. He truly was what people call a coaches’ athletic director.”
Trottier first met Taylor when the former applied for a job as a high school technical education teacher. Taylor indicated he needed someone to also coach junior varsity girls basketball and help with the track and field program. Trottier took on all of the tasks.
Over the years, as Taylor’s AD workload grew and his desire to teach remained strong, the two men came to share the administrative responsibilities of the athletic department. Trottier would become an assistant AD; each would split their days in half between teaching and athletics.
Trottier eventually succeeded Taylor as Hartford High’s full-time athletic director upon the latter’s retirement in 1998.
“He always seemed to have an interest in what you were doing,” Trottier said. “He was leaving himself out of the spotlight. By that, I mean he never said what he was doing or what he did. He was always putting you first.
“I think my experience over 20 years of coaching was he was always a person who was teaching you to get to the next step without even knowing it.”
A man of a reserved nature in his everyday interactions, Taylor still carried a quiet intensity when teaching algebra. His lessons went well beyond the numbers.
“In his class, he would ask a question and you would answer, often incorrectly,” said George Foley, a 1968 Hartford graduate now living in Milledgeville, Ga. “He would stare at you and say, ‘You lie.’ ”
That took some getting used to, the Wilder native admitted.
“What it meant was, ‘You’re accountable,’ ” he said.
The memory has stayed with Foley through the years. From Hartford, Foley attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and served in the Navy for 20 years. He still has family in the Upper Valley … as well as memories of a certain math teacher from his youth.
“Having had that experience with Bob calling things the way he saw them, that made it easier for me,” Foley said. “I think he’d hate to call it compassionate, but I think he was, but he was demanding. He took the time to make sure you understood things, like what it was like to be accountable, what it was like to be responsible and what was expected of you in the way that you spoke and carried yourself. He worked on a lot of life skills for all of us.”
Those talents eventually carried Dawn Taylor into a banking and finance career. Now in Portland, Maine, she works in fundraising for the city’s Catholic diocese. The numbers of her youth have become the numbers of her life.
“I wanted to be an athletic director because of him,” she said. “The hard part was I didn’t know how difficult it was to be an AD at other places and I didn’t know how to get involved, so I didn’t follow through. That would have been really cool.”
In similarly understated ways, Bob Taylor influenced thousands of Hartford High students and athletes. When he gave through instruction, they returned in admiration.
“People don’t realize it, and he’d probably be surprised himself, but he was a very private person,” Trottier said. “He had a great deal of respect from the students, the faculty and the coaching staff. It was just amazing how they respected him.
“Being so reserved, you wouldn’t think people would have that much respect. He didn’t demand it.”
In his own manner, he just gathered everyone into his circle.
“He was a quiet, positive person,” said Bob Potter, a longtime teaching colleague at Hartford High and a family friend. “I never saw him in an argument. He was pretty much in control of who he was, just the perfect person for people to try to emulate.”
Foley is spearheading an effort to establish the Bob Taylor Award, with the plan of annually awarding a scholarship of $200-$500 to a deserving Hartford High student. The fundraising goal is $10,000, and donations are appreciated. Contributions can be sent to: he Bob Taylor Award Fund, c/o George Foley, 216 Jackson Road SE, Milledgeville, GA 31061.
Greg Fennell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3226.
This article has been amended to clarify an earlier error. The following clarification ran in the Thursday, Dec. 20 edition of the Valley News:
People interested in donating to a fund established in the memory of Bob Taylor, the late Hartford High athletic director, may send contributions to The Bob Taylor Award Fund, c/o George Foley, 216 Jackson Road SE, Milledgeville, GA 31061. The street address for donations was incorrect in a story in Monday's edition.