Catching Fair Haven Rays: Remembering, Emulating Ray Taylor

Ray Taylor weeps for those lost at a Memorial Day ceremony in Fair Haven
Photo/Elaine Van Develde

“Cornerstone: A stone which lies at the corner of two walls and unites them” (often the starting point of a building), hence, figuratively, “that on which anything is founded.” 

Fair Haven’s cornerstone has been yanked from it rightful place. Its walls full of solid hometown brick and mortar are now wobbly — crumbling with sorrow. One of the last of the borough’s icons has taken his final trek down Fair Haven’s River Road.

This time he didn’t toddle back to his home. The cars, the fanfare passed by. There were flags — 99 of them anchored to the Earth, each marking a year in the borough, others flapping high on the pole hanging at a somber half staff. There was a marquee of homage. There was a procession. There was an ordinary cavernous, large black hearse carrying an extraordinary small man full of nearly 99 years’ worth of big gestures of community love.

The man was Ray Taylor. His life was, indeed, a full life well-lived. It ended on Jan. 17. A full life. Yet, 98, nearly 99 years’ worth of Ray Taylor wasn’t enough for the people of Fair Haven. The little 1.6-square-mile borough seemed to sob over the loss — like a toddler missing that lost raggedy stuffed animal that meant everything to him, nothing to anyone else. Unconsoled.

Many will, and should, continue to search for the comfort that was Ray Taylor. It’s there. He left it behind … in every microcosmic gesture, down to the sparkle in his always bright eyes, each crease in their corners.

Ray Taylor was nearly as old as the borough itself. In all of his years in his modest River Road home, he never boasted any claim to fame, any fancy curb appeal, any monetary philanthropy. No. None of that. He just saw people. Vividly. He spoke to people. Clearly. Sparsely. A few words. A smile. Those were his riches that he shared freely, unwittingly. Heroically.

Ray Taylor was, indeed, a bonafide hero. He served his country in the U.S. Army in two wars — World War II and the Korean War. He, like the other Fair Haven vets and all vets, deserved every bit of adulation for his service. Every single “Thank you.”

Ray Taylor at a Fair Haven meeting
Photo/Elaine Van Develde

But there was another sort of hero side to him that shines perhaps even brighter than the medals on his uniform that still fit like it did when he was that young Army man, and those on the cap that topped his smiling face and twinkling eyes wherever he wandered. His true lifetime service, as a real angel on Earth, was paid in his presence, his place as that cornerstone — bringing a community together, making a community with a smile, a nod, a few words always mortared with kindness.

He, himself, encapsulated it in a few words in a Veterans Day speech a few years ago:
“Don’t keep all your love to yourself. Let somebody else have a little of that love.
Be good to everybody.”

It’s what he did daily, without a thought or orchestrated kindness campaign. He kept no love all to himself. He let somebody each day have a little. And he was good — to everybody.

A Fair Haven chat with Ray Taylor circa summer of 2021
Photo/Elaine Van Develde

He spoke to people from the heart — the people on the streets where he lived all his life. He, one small man effortlessly carrying a ton of love in his heart and giving it freely, even to those who didn’t deserve it. Those who spurned his presence, not allowing a child of color to go to school with everyone else. Those who walked on past him toting a few pesky sticks out of their path. Those who didn’t see his pomp-free worth.

Yes, he spoke to people. It’s the advice the late Fair Haven icon Dorothy Breckenridge gave to her police chief son, Darryl: “Speak to people.”

Whether or not they hear you is another matter. No matter. The effort to speak that unadorned lingo is never really wasted. Someone always hears. Someone always emulates. Call it a shedding of Ray Taylor’s unbeknownst, countless rays of light.

Catching them, sopping up their warmth, and tossing them back out to the world would be the greatest ode to him. If we just catch one Ray at a time, and bounce its light back out there, we’ve heard Mr. Taylor. We’ve slipped a tiny piece of cornerstone back into the mortar.

Last I saw and chatted with Mr. Taylor, he was making his way to his usual bench at what was to be his last Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair. Who would know? We all sort of thought he’d live forever. We’d always see him again. I caught up with him at Krauszer’s. He was the first townie I saw as I set foot back on my more than half-century home turf. There was no better sign than catching this Ray at that moment.

I told him he was a celebrity. “Oh, yeah?” he said. Unfazed, unaffected, with a little grin of surprise, as usual, he went on to chat about his walk, his bench, his home. Simple. What mattered. He talked about how it was built during slavery and how he, as a young African-American man and World War II and Korean War vet, ended up owning it. He was proud as ever of his niche, his walk, his moments. This Ray was pure hometown sunshine. Caught. Bottled straight from his Fair Haven. Released.

“I get around, I talk to folks and then I sit a little,” he said, squinting, glowing in the summer sun. You sit, Mr. Taylor. Rest. A lot more is fair in one little haven, thanks to one of the best friends it’s ever had. We’ll walk your walk better having known you. We’ll keep your spirit cozied up next to us on our trek. It’ll keep us on the right path. The one with most meaning.

You sit. You rest. We’ll take your Rays from here … “Let somebody else have a little bit of that love.”

Start walking, folks …

Remember the sweetness of the todays and hellos, not the sorrow of the goodbyes, with Ray Taylor in our video. CLICK HERE.

Walking with Fair Haven’s Ray Taylor summer of 2021
Photo/Elaine Van Develde