Flossie Jane Taylor, a retired telephone operator who became a syndicated food columnist for the Hearst newspapers, died of an infection Dec. 4 at her Dundalk home. She was 88.
Born on a family farm in Chouteau, Oklahoma, she was the daughter of James Lafayette “Fate” Wilson and his wife, Rachel Cheetwood. She was the youngest of 18 siblings in a blended family. While she never plowed the family farm, she milked cows, tended the henhouse and garden and collected eggs.
“By the time she was born, her parents were 43 and 58, and she had nieces and nephews older than she was,” said her son Richard Taylor. “She went to one-room schools and was an A student, but there was no chance she could go on to college.”
She was anxious to find a different life.
“My grandmother hated farming. She met a young man, Clarence “Bud” Taylor in December 1949 when he was on leave from the Army. He hated farming too. They married in March 1950,” said her granddaughter, Chrissy Cosner.
Her husband was assigned to Korea and later Japan. She remained at home in Oklahoma and became a telephone operator.
“It was 1955. The phones did not have dials, they hung on the wall and had cranks. When you picked up the receiver, you would be able to hear anyone on your party line talking,” said her granddaughter. “To get the operator, you wound the crank. Gram would then answer and place your call. There was no privacy. But in Chouteau, it didn’t matter. Just about everyone was related to everyone else one way or another.”
She and her husband lived for a while in Japan before he was assigned to Baltimore’s Fort Holabird. A map maker, he worked in Army intelligence.
She joined what was then the Baltimore News-Post and Sunday American as a phone operator. As part of her duties she kept track of reporters and editors who told her, and other operators, where they would be outside the building.
“The main number she had to have ready was Burke’s in downtown Baltimore. So many of them hung there,” said her son.
She went on to become a receptionist in the news department after the paper’s name was simplified to The News American. She had graceful handwriting and often left notes for editors and reporters in their typewriters’ rollers.
“The receptionist job wasn’t glamorous, but it was a move from the tiny, windowless office of the telephone room,” said her granddaughter. “She would get to know the many personalities that made The News American. She also branched out by becoming a union rep for the department, and then a union officer.”
Ms. Taylor would ultimately be promoted from receptionist to a food columnist and feature writer. Her smiling face appeared with her column, “Calling All Cooks,” a reference to her days at the switchboard. The column appeared Wednesdays and Sundays.
Family members said they were uncertain how she made the jump to food writer, but they thought the foods she brought into work for newsroom parties may have contributed to her job change.
“She was a farm girl, who dropped out and didn’t graduate high school after getting married, but she could read and write and spell better than most,” said her granddaughter.
“In her new position as columnist, it was her time to shine. And shine she did. As the Calling All Cooks columnist, she became a personality recognized in the Baltimore,” said her granddaughter.
The column was also syndicated by the Hearst Corporation’s King Features Service.
“Her food was amazing — blueberry pancakes and a blueberry syrup, mac-n-cheese, tamale pie, oatmeal raisin cookies, roast beef, Jell-O cake, Texas sheet cake, a cheesy Mexican chicken thingy and her spaghetti sauce with Italian sausage,” said her granddaughter.
“Her food was not flashy or extravagant. It was practical and every day,” her granddaughter said.
Family members said she could make anything out of chicken and created an enchilada dish that had Doritos on top. It was a readers’ favorite. Many of her food columns were geared to budget stretching.
Ms. Taylor also published other recipes. She got the chef at Haussner’s Restaurant to share his crab imperial recipe in her column.
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Ms. Taylor did other feature writing as well and assisted with the paper’s problem-solving column.
“She was never quite as comfortable in that role,” said her granddaughter. “She had trouble recognizing and appreciating her talents, but they shone through regardless.”
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After the paper closed in 1986, she became a receptionist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She also earned a degree at the Baltimore County Community College at Dundalk.
“In the back of her mind, though, she always hoped to get back into newspapers or write a cookbook of her own based on her column,” said her granddaughter.
In 1995, her brother Clyde died in California and she became his executor in what was a complicated estate.
Services were held Dec. 8 at the Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk.
Survivors include two sons, Richard Taylor and James Taylor, both of Dundalk; two daughters, Cheryl Bruce of Easton and Patricia Taylor of Baltimore; nine grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandson. Her husband, who after his Army retirement did printing for Fair Lanes bowling chain, died in 1984.