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Former OSF president Jerry Taylor dies

By the time Jerry Taylor retired in January of 2000, he had already worked for Honeywell in various financial positions in the United States and Europe, held several domestic and international controller positions with Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation, worked his way up to a chief financial executive position for global energy company Schlumberger, and, as senior vice president and CFO, helped build Applied Materials, Inc., into a multibillion-dollar company in the semiconductor industry.

But he was just getting started.

Gerald (Jerry) Francis Taylor, a former president of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and a member of several regional boards of directors, died from acute cardiac arrest April 3 at his home in Ashland. He was 80.

“Jerry was one of the first board presidents when I was a new artistic director at OSF,” said Bill Rauch. “Along with his wife, Jeannie, he was one of our longest-term and most consistent donors, often sponsoring comedies, as Jerry loved to laugh.

“I was personally enriched, and the festival gained so much from Jerry Taylor’s insights and generosity,” Rauch said.

In retirement, Taylor and Jeannie supported many charitable causes and organizations through the Taylor Family Foundation. He also supported or was affiliated with the Rotary Club of Ashland, OSF, La Clinica Health Center in Medford, CASA, Community Works, Children’s Advocacy Center, Elks Club, First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, and Sigma Upsilon Ne fraternity.

The Taylors were recipients of many awards for their community good works, including the Visionaries Award in 2009 from the American Association of University Women, the 2011 Southern Oregon University Presidential Medal of Distinction for service to the Rogue Valley, and the 2013 Len Herbert Humanitarian of the Year award from St. Vincent de Paul.

Taylor also served on the boards of directors for Electro Scientific Industries in Portland, Lithia Motors in Ashland (2000-2007), OSF, La Clinica, and the Ashland Family YMCA (2009-2010).

Taylor was born in North Platte, Nebraska, to Richard Thomas Taylor and Icel West Clark. A small railroad town at the confluence of the North and South Platte rivers, it was the county seat of Lincoln County.

When Taylor was a child, during World War II, the city was famous for the North Platte Canteen. He and his brothers, Robert and William, witnessed tens of thousands of volunteers from the town and surrounding area meet troop trains passing through, offering coffee, sandwiches and hospitality to nearly seven million servicemen.

Taylor earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1964 from the University of Nebraska and, in 1970, an MBA from the University of Southern California. He was a member of the United States Marine Corps Reserve.

His life and travels took him all over the world. Besides North Platte, he lived in Minneapolis, Brussels, Denver, Houston, and Torrance, Saratoga and San Jose, California.

He loved to travel. He loved food. And he enjoyed combining the two. His favorite dining experiences became his favorite stories, in which he spared no detail of where the ingredients were sourced and how they were prepared.

He also enjoyed trying new recipes and it gave him great pleasure to cook for family and friends.

“One of his all-time favorites to cook — and we would ask for it all the time — was his fried chicken,” said daughter Dyna Mendoza of San Francisco.

“It was so delicious. I have a copy of the recipe in my collection that he gave me and it is super special to me because it has all his handwritten notes on the page with his tweaks and revisions,” she said.

Tom and Karen O’Rourke of Ashland are among the friends for whom Taylor has often cooked. Karen and Jeannie were the best of friends in Silicon Valley in the 1980s. They moved to Ashland in early 1991 and were instrumental in influencing the Taylors to move here.

Tom O’Rourke remembers how the Taylors got a taste of life in Ashland.

“Because our mutual best friends were also here, Jeannie would come up regularly to spend a few days doing their friendship walks,” O’Rourke said.

“Soon, Jerry started joining us regularly. We shared dinners then at least once a month. Jerry was best friends with the world. He was a social jewel. Jerry’s norm was not publicity, it was helping those in real need,” he said.

Besides his community service, Taylor also enjoyed golf, tennis, badminton, skiing and was a movie buff.

Something not everybody knew about Taylor was that he was an avid singer. His associates at Applied Materials remember his singing karaoke at company functions. He sang in the shower, he sang on the way to work, and he sang while cooking.

And, because all parents embarrass their children now and then, Taylor fulfilled that responsibility with his singing when his daughter Dyna was in the car one day.

With the Pointer Sisters cranked up on the car radio singing “Jump,” Taylor sang along happily. When his teenage daughter tried to shrink down in the front seat out of embarrassment, he just laughed, turned up the volume, rolled down the windows, and sang even louder.

Taylor was married to Nancy Witzigreuter from 1965 to 1987, and married Jeannie in 1987.

He is survived by his wife Jeannie; children Lauri Whitted, Kira Taylor, Dyna (and husband Joseph) Mendoza; 10 grandchildren; and a brother, William Taylor.

He was predeceased by a son, Chris; his parents; and a brother, Robert Taylor.

The Taylor family expresses its appreciation and thanks to Ashland Fire & Rescue, District No. 5 Fire and Rescue, and Corporal Thomas Hohl of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date. Litwiller-Simonsen Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

For those who would like to honor Taylor, the family suggests a donation to Cure MECP2, which is working to find a cure for a rare genetic disorder that afflicts his grandson, or a favorite charity.