Ryan Summerlin September 27, 2013
We called him Mayor all his life. Long after his service to the City had ended. Long after his stroke had sidelined him for a spell. Long after his wife, Judy, passed away years before him.
But I’m ahead of my story.
Hal Taylor was one of the first people I met when I came to Park City in the spring of ’79. His real estate office, I think, was up at The Resort — there was only one resort then, really — and if I remember right (and I may not), Dusty Orrell worked with him. They helped me find my first rental house.
He was always a fixture around town — he would buy a round at the Down Under of the Claimjumper after the standard 15-minute City Council meeting where nothing was solved or resolved. It was at the Down Under where council members and city staff and reporters and the ski resort owner would take equal turns buying a round. There, the real issues of the day were slugged out and shouted down and building plans and water systems and org charts were sketched out with equal style on the back of cocktail napkins. Those "meetings" would go on for hours.
Eventually, Hal decided he should take a turn and run for Mayor. And so he did. And much to his surprise — and his opponent’s — he won. He ran on a platform that was akin to… "Off with their heads!" And it applied to pretty much every department head in City Hall, including the police chief and the city manager, a woman. He was going to shake things up and get to the bottom of perceived corruption and over-staffing and waste. Of course, once he pulled back the curtain and spent time with all those hard-working folks he became their champion. He lived in the same house in Park Meadows on the old golf course for all the years I knew him. He even lived there for a spell after his wife, Judy, the famed watercolor artist, died in 2006, and long after his stroke, when he was still in office, when we really thought we were going to lose him.
Long after that legendary trip to Ennis and Cameron, Montana, for his surprise 60th birthday party, we thought he’d never see. Judy had arranged for all us to drive up there for a long weekend and stay the night and surprise him, a few long months after his stroke.
He labored when he walked, dragged his left leg really, while he held up his droopy left arm with his right. He still wore his cowboy boots and jeans and leather vest and a crisp white shirt that was his wardrobe all his years. He walked down the river with me the day after the party and he showed me his favorite fishing hole. He talked about his fear for his family and his city now that he was lame (his word). It was one of those times in life I was honored to listen.
We had gathered for a drink first, in his other favorite watering hole, the Blue Moon Saloon just up from the Madison River and right there on the highway. The whole town was just that Saloon, a post office and a handful of fishing cabins. He always wanted to buy Cameron. When I saddled up to the bar in my purple, suede cowgirl boots and purple, suede vest I couldn’t have stuck out more in the classic western dive. I was unconscious to all that. I went straight to the bar and asked for a nice glass of Chardonnay. The bartender laughed (he had been pre-warned ) and told me all they served was Jack. I could have Jack straight, or Jack on the rocks. I looked over to Hal. He said simply, "If you’re gonna be a bear, be a Grizzly." So I drank my Jack straight.
The party at the Sportsman Club was a fine meal with many toasts and many tales that I am still sworn not to tell. Even if my sideman that night was Ted Warr, who we lost this year too. "What happens in Ennis stays in Ennis," he said, long before Vegas ever picked up his line. There was a late-night visit to some seedy bar after dinner and I remember asking Hal what the metal contraption hanging on the wall was, exactly. It had a metal circle and a long chain.
"Bull Cinch,"he said. And, city girl that I was, I said I didn’t know what that meant. "Hell," said Hal, "you put that metal circle around the bull’s testicles and chain it to a tree and it’s a cinch that bull ain’t going nowhere." Everyone at the bar was roaring at the green girl getting roped into the old joke.
He told blue jokes and made fun of his enemies and his friends with great nicknames for all of them/us.
When my son was going to college I knew he needed a talk from a man, that as a single mom, I couldn’t give him. Hal took Randy to lunch. (As a former engineer, IBM genius Hal would know how to talk to my nerdy, smart son. Randy would become a physicist and Hal was always as proud of him as I was.) But that day, after their lunch date, I asked Randy how it went. "He’s a really smart guy," Randy said with some astonishment — he had only ever seen Hal’s playful side. "He gave me a roll of bills and he said to use it for pizza money."
In the years before I was fundraising professionally, I was raising money for a child with cancer and a new church building and a domestic violence shelter. Hal was always first and last to donate to any cause. He was quietly one of the most generous souls of his era.
I’m told he kept his feisty sense of humor and quick wit until the end, when, according to his son Cody — who along with his with wife, Sonia, took such great care of Hal in his last years — Cody gave Hal a Scotch one night. Hal drank it down, went to sleep and never woke again.
Cody plans to take Hal’s ashes to that place along the Madison where he fished with Stein and Jenks and Ted and all his friends for all those years. And the Missouri-born, sensible guy, who worked for IBM in its growth years and served his country in the Navy in Korea and served Park City when we were just starting to dream about what could be, will be gone fishin’ in those clear, cold waters meandering downstream and into Yellowstone, babbling over the rocks. And we will be left to raise a glass on our own and thank him for all his gifts to our town this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.