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Janet W. Taylor, a retired Baltimore County public schools educator and housing activist, dies

Janet W. Taylor taught practical life skills and was known for her cookies.
Janet W. Taylor taught practical life skills and was known for her cookies. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Janet W. Taylor, a retired Baltimore County public schools educator and advocate for fair housing, died May 10 at the Gilchrist Center in Towson of complications from a stroke. The Edenwald Retirement Community resident was 89.

“Janet was a wonderful teacher, she really was,” said Betsy Barkley, who retired in 1991 from Parkville High School. “I was her department chair, and the kids and teachers loved her. She really kept things going.”

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Don Stahl first got to know Mrs. Taylor and her husband, Richard A. Taylor, when they took his wine appreciation course at Essex Community College and remained close friends thereafter.

“She was very intelligent, had a great sense of humor, was independent and very sensible,” Mr. Stahl said. “She was a feminist before that term came into general use.”

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The former Janet Mae Wagner, daughter of Herbert Wellington Wagner, a Western Electric Corp. employee, and his wife, Virginia Greeley Wagner, was born in Baltimore and raised in Hampden.

“I’ve known Janet since we were 12 and went to Roland Park Junior High School,” said Hope Howachyn, a retired teacher. “First off, she was very, very smart and well-spoken, and given her personality, she was no shrinking violet. She always had things to say but had a good sense of humor.”

After graduating in 1949 from Eastern High School, she attended Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, in Westminster.

In 1957, she married Richard Ashley Taylor, who later was the founder of Ashley Laboratories LLC, a Parkville materials testing and inorganic chemistry laboratory that served the metal finishing industry.

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During the 1960s, Ms. Taylor worked for Stieff Silver, where she wore Colonial-era clothing and visited schools and community associations lecturing on Colonial-period silversmithing, and for short time for a Read Street boutique serving as a fashion show commentator.

Ms. Taylor attended Morgan State University in the early 1960s, and again in the 1970s, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1975, and began her teaching career in Baltimore County public schools.

“She was usually the only white student in her classes at Morgan,” said a daughter, Susan Ashley Taylor of Greenbelt, who earned a master’s degree there.

Ms. Taylor taught home economics at Patapsco High School and later joined the faculty of Parksville Senior High School, where she remained until retiring in 1992 after the birth of her first grandchild.

“She was dedicated to teaching practical life skills, caring for young children, cooking, household management,” her daughter said.

Steve Lippy is Ms. Taylor’s nephew. “I went to Dulaney, but I had friends who went to Parkville who asked me, was she my mother or aunt?” Mr. Lippy said. “They raved about her and said she was as kind as they come. A baseball player from Parkville told me she’d bring the team fresh-baked cookies for home games. She was a wonderful, kind person who made everything extra special.”

Said Mrs. Barkley: ”She brought creativity to her work and she’d cook the students things they really loved. She was always somewhat kooky and they loved that too.”

When her children were growing up, Ms. Taylor and her children would take her cookies to firefighters and police officers who were working on Christmas Day, a “concrete form of gratitude for our protection,” her daughter said.

But there was a serious side to Ms. Taylor, who with her husband shared a sensitivity toward issues of pacifism, peace and service to humanity, and a profound belief in integration. During the 1960s they began volunteering for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc.

To expose housing discrimination and support neighborhood integration, the couple paired with an African American couple through Baltimore Neighborhoods to act as “secret shoppers,” visiting landlords and apartment complexes, to uncover discrimination and violations of Fair Housing statues.

“They were the ideal couple,” Mrs. Barkley said. “I loved Richard, and Jane was always a breath of fresh air.”

The couple lived in Carney before moving to Cockeysville in 1977. They enjoyed French wine and Asian cooking. As members of Elderhostel they participated in more than 30 “Road Scholar” programs from Canada to Argentina.

Long after their wine classes with Mr. Stahl ended, his former students and their instructor met for dinners.

“They were naturally wine dinners,” Mr. Stahl said, “and Janet was always the life of the party with her wonderful stories. I loved her and her husband, and they were always a pleasure to be around.”

She was a member of a group of Eastern High classmates who met once a month for lunch.

“We’d have them at the Country Club of Maryland and I always picked her up. Even though we had driven there a thousand times, Jane would say, ‘You have to get in the right lane soon,’” Mrs. Howachyn said with a laugh.

“And when I’d take her home to Edenwald she’d say, ‘You’ll have to get in the left lane soon,’” said Mrs. Howachyn with a hearty laugh.

Ms. Taylor, who moved to Edenwald in 2008, enjoyed the theater and dancing, and “her tap dancing was an art that was close to sacred,” her daughter said.

Ms. Taylor was a member of Holy Comforter Episcopal Church in Lutherville.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two sons, Joshua Bryan Taylor of Cockeysville and Derek Ian Taylor of San Francisco; another daughter, Janet Taylor Hall of Crisfield; a sister, Judy Lippy of North Fort Myers, Florida; and seven grandchildren.

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