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Ellen Taylor: Former mayor, civic activist

Former mayor, League of Women Voters stalwart, civic activist

To get a sense of Ellen Taylor’s prodigious gifts as an organizer and persuasive advocate, her husband, Marshall Taylor, offered a telling memory from the couple’s early days living in the tiny Nevada town of Tonopah, where he was stationed with the US Air Force.

“Ellen’s academic background was in sociology and social work,” Mr. Taylor said. “And so she became appointed by the state of Nevada as the sole social worker in [Tonopah’s] Nye County. So, they gave her a state car, and sent her out on weird missions, like to little Piute encampments down 50 miles of gravel road. And she also interacted with quite a few people in the town. The town had a sorority for the movers and shakers in the town, and she was invited into this sorority. She was the only Air Force connected person invited, which tells me that at age 22 she was already working the crowd.”

Ms. Taylor died at home in Claremont on March 3 at the age of 75. She had been in declining health since last summer.

“I nursed her back to health for the last six or seven months,” Mr. Taylor said. “We just got the clean bill of health from the neurosurgeon, and two weeks later she died of a stroke. I thought we had a few more miles on the treads, but we didn’t.”

She was born January 13, 1944 in Lawrence, Massachusetts to David and Rose Shack. After high school she enrolled at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. She took her junior year at Boston University, where, on a blind date in 1963, she met Mr. Taylor. In the spring of 1965 she graduated from Skidmore with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. In November of that year, she and Marshall were married in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

During their early married life, they moved often, as Mr. Taylor was in the Air Force and attending graduate school. They lived in Massachusetts (twice), Pennsylvania, Colorado (twice), and Nevada before settling in Claremont in 1978.

Although known in Claremont as the office manager of the law partnership of Taylor, Simonson and Winter LLP, she always thought of herself as a social worker more than a businesswoman. She spent nearly two decades working in the field of social work, starting in 1965, including for the city of Claremont at the senior center during the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

During her time at the senior center, she was involved in developing the postal alert program, a joint venture between Claremont and the United States Postal Service, in which senior citizens could ask their postal carrier to report any potential problems to the senior center.

She took a leadership role in many organizations in Claremont. Among her accomplishments were serving as the mayor of Claremont; on the Claremont City Council; as a board member for the Claremont Museum of Art; president of the League of Women Voters of Claremont; a board member for the League of Women Voters of the State of California; president of the Claremont Chamber of Commerce; a board member and vice president of Claremont Heritage; four years as the chair of the city of Claremont’s Traffic and Transportation Commission; vice president of the board of the Friends of the Library; vice president of membership for the Claremont Community Coordinating Council; a board member for the International Place at the Colleges; chair of Claremont’s Committee on Aging’s Legal and Protective Services sub-committee; and on the Citizen’s Committee for the city’s general plan.

“When she took a stance she was unmovable but could always defend her position,” said her longtime friend Helaine Goldwater. “There was never a mean side to her, though there was definitely a very strong and determined side. If she said she was going to do something you could count on her to do it. Her innovative ideas and public spirit will be missed by the city. Her strong and caring friendship will be missed by her friends.”

Her family said her proudest accomplishments were the long hours she spent helping to create Padua Avenue Park while she served on the city council; playing a key role in negotiating the agreement and shepherding the voter-approval process that led to the inclusion of Johnson’s Pasture in Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, an action which dramatically increased the size and accessibility of the park, and preserved a rare area of relatively flat and otherwise buildable land; and in the aftermath of a tragedy in town, organizing Study Circles, small discussion groups that allowed people to get together to talk about the issues. Hundreds of Claremont citizens participated, and many credited Study Circles with helping to begin the process of community healing.

In 2002, she and her Mr. Taylor were honored as grand marshals of Claremont’s Fourth of July parade.

“Ellen was a very social person and truly a good friend,” said Ms. Goldwater. “If you needed her help she was right there for you. Our friendship started about 30 years ago and never faltered. She was always there when her friends needed her, supportive and doing what was necessary at that moment.”

Ellen was far more than just a civic leader, her family shared. She was a devoted wife, a fierce friend, a loving and excellent mother, and, probably her greatest joy of all, a loving grandmother to her five grandchildren.

“For sure, she was insanely in love with her grandchildren,” Mr. Taylor said. “Not a meeting would go by with anybody without her pulling out a picture from her supply in her handbag to show all of her grandkids. That was a good part of her life. I bought her a license plate holder that she had me put on immediately. It says, ‘If mom says no, ask grandma.’”

She is survived by her husband of 53 years, Marshall; son Matthew and daughter-in-law Amy Taylor, and their three children Grant, Evan and Natalie, of Upland; son Andrew and daughter-in-law Sara Taylor, and their two children Gavin and Jayden, of Fairfax, Virginia; nieces Lois Greenbaum of La Verne and Julie Greenbaum of Rochester, New Hampshire; and many other family members.

A celebration of Ellen Taylor’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 18 at Claremont United Church of Christ, 233 W. Harrison Ave. All are invited. Former CUCC pastor Butch Henderson will preside over Ms. Taylor’s memorial.

One of her rituals was to light candles on the anniversary of her parents’ deaths. “I think it was probably because of that, that she absolutely loved candles,” Mr. Taylor said. The couple owned a vacation home in Lake Arrowhead. “As soon as she got in the place, she put out about 10 candles on a low table in the living room, and lit ‘em all up, just to create the ambiance that she wanted in the place.”

Mr. Taylor hopes to distribute candles to the attendees of Ms. Taylor’s memorial.

Ms. Taylor also loved charity. In lieu of flowers, please consider a charitable donation in her name to Shoes That Fit at shoesthatfit.org/donate; The League of Women Voters of the Claremont/Mt Baldy Area my.lwv.org/california/mt-baldy-area/donate; or to the charitable organization of your choice.

“In some senses I feel exactly the way I felt on our wedding day, when we were 21 years old,” Mr. Taylor said. “It’s a good, warm family, and Ellen was the source of that. She was the materfamilias I guess you might say.

“And a good run we had. You know, 53 years ain’t bad.”

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com