Rutland lawyer, Democrat leader, dies at 70
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | June 05,2014
Jeff Taylor was devoted to his causes.
“He was one of the original civil libertarians who came out of the ’60s and early ’70s,” state Defender General Matthew Valerio said Wednesday. “That was one of the passions that guided his life.”
Taylor, a Rutland lawyer and longtime active member of the Vermont Democratic Party, died Sunday of complications from surgery, according to his family. He was 70 years old.
“What a guy,” said Mary Ashcroft, who was Democratic county vice chairwoman under Taylor and then succeeded him after his term as chairman. “He was always interested in legal services for the poor and those who couldn’t afford it. ... He just had enormous energy and he was really intrigued by people and causes.”
His interests also took him in some odd directions, Ashcroft said, like when he tried to keep tabs on budding militia and survivalist groups.
“He would try to keep an eye and even get in amongst them,” she said. “He was trying to find out what they were doing.”
Taylor arrived with his family in Vermont from Los Angeles in the early 1970s, part of the back-to-the-land movement.
“This was a very big adventure for us, as Southern Californians, coming from the city to what, for us, was a very rural area,” daughter Jennifer Taylor said. “My father got involved in the Unitarian Church and involved in the local peace group and launched himself into progressive causes. ... I think this place meant a phenomenal amount to him.”
After living in Rutland for several years, the Taylors bought 25 acres in Clarendon and built a house.
“We’d have summer picnics at his house,” said Valerio, who worked with Taylor at Abatiell Associates from 1996 to 2001. “The whole firm and the families would go out there and have Wiffle Ball games. Despite the fact he had some pretty bad arthritis, he was always the first in line to participate.”
Valerio said Taylor was an intellectual with an academic temperament.
“He was a very smart guy and sometimes saw nuances others didn’t,” he said. “He was on a national panel called Ethics 2000 at a time when Vermont hadn’t adopted the previous model of professional responsibility. He was always ahead of his time.”
During his legal career, he represented an anti-military recruitment organization trying to get the same access to schools as military recruiters and an anti-war protester who was allegedly attacked at a rally. His involvement in the Democratic Party included repeatedly serving as a Vermont delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
Taylor’s friends brought up his sense of humor repeatedly.
Ashcroft recalled when a staunch longtime Democrat was about to have a birthday. She said Taylor wrote to then-Vice President Dan Quayle saying the woman — who was in her 80s — was about to turn 100 and would love a birthday message from the man who had been such a whipping boy for her and her fellow Democrats.
Taylor arranged a party for the woman at a County Democratic meeting and presented her with a glossy 8-by-10-inch photo of Quayle with an inscription offering best wishes on her 100th birthday.
“The whole place went nuts,” Ashcroft said.
Ashcroft also recounted how, as chairman, Taylor would often have to deal with candidates who were “very persistent and very difficult to deal with,” and one in particular who would call him nightly for advice.
On one particular night, Ashcroft said, Taylor got home late and hungry. On the phone with this particular candidate, he placed a frozen dinner in the microwave and then accidentally set it for 30 minutes instead of the recommended three. As the conversation went on and on, Taylor noticed smoke coming out from under his kitchen door.
“Jeff was too polite to hang up,” Ashcroft said. “He said, ‘You’ve got to let me go, my house is on fire.’ That’s the kind of guy he was.”
Valerio recalled him as unflappable. He recalled a time when he was in a band playing in a Rutland bar late at night and Taylor arrived to watch dressed in a suit and tie.
“To me, I would have felt out of place,” he said. “To him, it wasn’t a concern. He was there for his own purposes. It didn’t occur to him he looked out of place. ... I never really saw him particularly flustered. I always saw him be comfortable with any particular place he was in.”