My dad loved cars, music, and his family.
One of six siblings growing up in West Philadelphia (and, later, East Lansdowne), every story he told about his childhood always involved pranks, mischief, or general hijinx.
He spent four years in the Navy, sailing the Mediterranean and fishing Apollo astronauts out of the Atlantic Ocean. After he returned to the States, he fixed every car he could get his hands on, both professionally and just for fun.
This meant, much to my mother’s chagrin, that he often parked two non-working vehicles in the back driveway for every one with a running engine. (I say “vehicles” here because our fleet often included RVs, small boats, delivery trucks, and at least one thing we’d now refer to as a “creeper van.”)
Folks on our street didn’t mind or rarely complained, since my dad pulled down a wild range of volunteer roles between our home in Darby and our summer community in Ocean View. A substitute school bus driver, a Judge of Elections, and an active member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Dad rarely missed a chance to help his neighbors.
A master of the side hustle, Dad inspired entrepreneurship in me and and my sister. One year, we filled his VW Beetle with Thanksgiving pies I sold for Cub Scouts. Kelly’s Girl Scout cookie operation resembled a commercial fulfillment center that took over two rooms of our house. Both of us knew how to conduct a professional parts inventory before we knew how to drive.
Marching with the Reilly Raiders and the Archer-Epler Musketeers, Dad played the French horn, the mellophone, and the trumpet. Even when he wasn’t performing, he loved experimenting with music charts and orchestrations.
Because Dad was always a daredevil at heart, I grew up believing that everyone else’s father spent as much time visiting emergency rooms as ours did. Mom got him to swear off riding motorcycles in the early 1970s, but he still worked with racing teams and on classic show cars. He wrecked at least two work vehicles (that I know of) by making heroic efforts to swerve around small animals. Hospital nurses always sounded surprised when we’d answer the phone with “what did he do now?”
By the mid-1980s, he ran a business that helped other mechanics and garage owners better serve their own customers. Kelly and I learned how to sound much older on the phone, especially when dealing with frantic clients. He taught us how to do what’s right for our customers, and how to properly own up for our mistakes.
Over the past two decades, Dad reveled in a whole new career as a maintenance engineer at Walt Disney World. He’d arrive at work just as the parks would close, spending each night fixing obscure pieces of machinery to make sure nobody would be disappointed that their favorite ride wasn’t running by morning. If you’ve ridden the Test Track at Epcot, the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or the Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom, you’ve enjoyed the results of Dad’s work.
Dad delighted in everyday experiences. He’d obsess over the lines of a car’s hood. He’d spend a whole shift getting a door to close just right. He’d analyze the differences between sticky buns from competing bakeries. Getting a smile from a small child made his day. Even when things weren’t going his way, he always found an upside.
Never a coffee drinker, he thrived on copious amounts of (always and only) Lipton orange pekoe tea. He’d grumble at an Earl Grey, but we got him to start trying some Irish Breakfast blends in later years. Not that the strength of the tea mattered — his mug almost ended up 50/50 tea and milk, anyway.
He adored Lori, always greeting her with a big smile and a “hello, dear!” He always held space in his heart for every one of his nieces and nephews, and for all of their families.
He loved big, loud films. It didn’t matter that I was probably way too young for him to take me to see “RoboCop” the weekend it was released. When we spent time together over the past 20 years, we almost always ended up watching Bullitt. Our last movie together was Ford v Ferrari.
Our final conversation involved a treat my Aunt Mary Theresa brought him from his favorite soft pretzel bakery.
“How was it?” I asked.
“Outstanding,” he said, a huge grin creeping across his face.
I know he was talking about more than just the pretzel.
December 27, 1945 – June 13, 2020
Joe Taylor Sr. passed away peacefully today after a long illness.
According to his wishes, he will be interred during a private ceremony at Finn’s Point National Cemetery, a historic resting place along the Delaware River.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, please consider making charitable donations to Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice and to Virtua Health Foundation. These two organizations took extraordinary care of him in the final months of his life.