Walking the sidewalks of Kingston, Jamaica with this man was an exercise in terror—not for me, but for the literally dozens of pedestrians across the street who, spotting the known-by-everybody priest, yelled out his name then charged heedlessly across four lanes of uncontrolled vehicular chaos to ask him a question, or a favor, or to thank him for some recent kindness.
Our paths first crossed nearly 40 years ago in the lovely park-like setting of the campus of Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The only non-Caucasian in the class at the College of Preachers, his professional television voice rang clear with a gentle Caribbean cadence; a memorable man in a week of memorable people and events.
I invited him to visit my Tennessee parish and university en route to his home in Jamaica, but he regretfully declined, explaining, with no further embellishment, that he was committed to a prior engagement that weekend. I learned later that his prior engagement was to conduct religious services at the White House at the personal invitation of the President of the United States.
He offered me a reciprocal invitation to visit his Kingston parish, which I accepted later that year.
He informed me I was to preach at Sunday services in his 2,000-member St. Mary’s parish. He didn’t tell me there would be five of them. At 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 a.m., I preached to standing-room-only congregations, then I crashed, and he finished the day with two more services.
He did make it to Tennessee, where he almost immediately made grist for the local gossip mill. As we drove into our little Appalachian town, he saw my wife on a downtown sidewalk, yelled “Stop the car!” and jumped out mid-block to kiss Bettie smack on the mouth.
Unmarried and the island’s most dreamed-about bachelor till age 46, Taylor sent innumerable Jamaican female hearts into deep depression when he married the bright and beautiful Rosalie. With his bride he began a new adventure as rector of large multi-racial congregations in New York City and Atlanta, Ga. He was a natural for election as a bishop, and in 1986 he was consecrated The Right Reverend E. Don Traylor, Lord Bishop of the Virgin Islands.
When Hurricane Hugo devastated the islands in the summer of 1990, I phoned him to check on his family’s welfare. “Rosalie and Tara are OK’, he said. “The roof was blown off our house, but I can’t worry about that right now.”
The Anglican Church in the West Indies has its roots in England, where Bishops were often known as “Princes of the Church.” Don never aspired to ecclesiastical royalty. His incredible stamina enabled him to walk the streets after a day in his office or at meetings, exercising his deep love for people and joy in being with them.
His resourcefulness in difficult circumstances, his transparently honest humanness and availability to anyone in serious need placed the Anglican Church in the forefront of religious communities and earned him a permanent place of honor and endearment in the hearts even of those who were not religiously affiliated. When Rosalie Taylor died in 1992, the entire Virgin Islands stopped to pay respect to her and to offer support to their beloved bishop and his daughter, Tara.
The boss bishop of New York brought him to the Big Apple as Vicar Bishop, where he did what he did best, taking care of people. After 15 years the city bade him goodbye in a farewell mass in the cavernous Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, and in May of this year he headed once again for the Caribbean (to the precincts where he grew up), and was installed as rector of the famed and venerated Kingston Parish Church in the heart of the old city.
People have probably resumed risking their lives on the streets of Kingston, dodging hurtling vehicles to talk to him, to just be with him. He’s as bald as a cue ball, and I suggested he get a blonde wig so people won’t recognize him. He probably won’t do it, he’s stubborn that way.
Syndicated columnist Jack Wilson is an Episcopal priest. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.