William "Bill" Taylor
Best known as a coach and an educator, William "Bill" Taylor, who moved his family to San Anselmo in 1968 and worked with high school students from 1975 to 2017, died on Monday. He was 88. Though complications from Lewy Body Dementia limited his mobility in the final months of his life, Bill was still composing weekly newsletters for his students up until his death.
Born in 1933 to Mary Hager–one of Pomona College's first female graduates–and her pilot husband, William Taylor, Bill and his younger brother, Harold, grew up in the San Fernando Valley. One of Bill's earliest memories was his father taking him to the newly completed Los Angeles Coliseum where he ran around the track after dark. Then in 1943, while training pilots for the war near Newhall, CA., Bill's father died in a plane accident. Unable to provide for her children, Mary temporarily moved Bill and Harold into the Hollygrove Orphanage–later made famous by Marilyn Monroe. Eventually finding a job and an apartment, Mary brought her boys home and raised them in Toluca Lake, CA. Attracted to athletics, the two brothers played sports whenever they could.
While running track at Valley Junior College in 1952, something clicked for Bill and his times started to drop. Outracing the field in the 880-yard-dash at the LA Coliseum Relays in 1953, he received scholarship offers from the best track and field programs in the country. Bill selected the national champion USC Trojans.
For the next two years, he trained and competed with the best of the best. His teammates included future Olympians Jim Lea, Des Koch, and Max Truex. At USC, Bill never lost a Pac-8 dual meet race and the team won two more national championships.
In The Los Angeles Times, he once shared the title of co-athlete-of-the-week with Olympian Rafer Johnson. Later, Bill succeeded in beating the world-record holder from Cal, Lon Spurrier. Emeritus coach, Dean Cromwell, suggested he could go to the Olympics and break the world record. But two weeks before try- outs, he sustained an injury and failed to qualify.
After college, Bill became an officer in the Marines. At Quantico, Virginia, he continued to run and played rabbit for the famous American miler, Wes Santee–a fellow Marine–at venues like Madison Square Garden. But his competitive running career was over.
Then in 1958, Bill started to think about religion. The grandson of Swiss missionaries, he began to wonder if being a minister might be the greatest profession in life. Enrolling in the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, Bill joined a generation of Presbyterians who believed that the divinity of Jesus was revealed in his behavior as an ordinary human being. Marrying Jeanne Standring of Sacramento, CA., Bill moved back to Southern California and had two sons, Jess and Cory. Tragically, however, Jeanne died of a seizure in 1965 and Bill was left alone to raise his two sons. No longer a minister, he worked as a high school teacher in the San Fernando Valley.
Shortly thereafter, Bill met and married Patricia Allen–a vivacious UCLA grad with an insatiable appetite for world travel–and the family moved to San Anselmo. While running a business, writing for the Ross Valley Reporter, and dabbling in politics, (he was Marin's campaign chairman for RFK and a delegate at the 1968 Democratic Convention), Bill accompanied his new wife on trips to Europe. Overseas, something came alive for Taylor. Discovering, for example, that the ancient Greeks had grappled with the same questions of existence that perplex modern society, Bill became obsessed with history. In 1974, he wrote Athenian Odyssey–a unique travel guide to ancient Athens. But the most important chapter in his life didn't come into focus until 1977.
That summer in Athens, Greece, Bill challenged his teenage son, Jess, to a foot race in the Panathenaic stadium. When Jess out- sprinted him on the track, Bill took pride in seeing his son's budding ability. Later, when Jess asked his dad to volunteer at (then) Sir Francis Drake High School, Taylor had a realization: he wanted to coach. Within the year, Bill was not only training his son, he'd taken over the head coaching job, and his women's mile relay team had placed third in the California State Championship at Bakersfield.
To reward the mile relay team and other athletes for their dedication, Taylor promised to lead them on a trip to Europe. In the summer of 1979, the first group of Bill's newly-inspired athletic club called Arete West, flew to Switzerland and Paris for 5 weeks. There, Arete students competed in track meets against host clubs, lived in youth hostels, and traveled around visiting the historical sites they'd studied in the months leading up to the trip.
During the next 38 years, Taylor brought over 150 students on 20 Arete trips to destinations in Europe and the Middle East. Arete was in East Berlin before the wall came down; behind the Iron Curtain before the end of the Cold War; and in Cairo just after the Arab Spring. Then in 2017, Bill led his final Arete trip to Europe before retiring from coaching at Sir Francis Drake.
In 2003, Bill was inducted for his coaching into the Marin County Athletic Hall of Fame. He went on to write two more books, Igniting the Flame, and The Greatest Classrooms of the World. Then, in 2018, he received the Mensch Award for educating Arete students about the Holocaust and bringing them to visit concentration camps in Poland, Germany and Austria.
Throughout the final decades of his life, Bill continued to enthusiastically follow the Olympics and attended the games in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Athens. He is survived by his two sons, Jess and Cory, his grandson, Liam–a postgraduate in Washington DC–and hundreds of former students and athletes who will never forget the impact he made on their lives.
Published by San Francisco Chronicle from Oct. 8 to Oct. 10, 2021.