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Richard A. Taylor, longtime church activist and housing advocate, dies

Richard A. Taylor died April 17 at Edenwald Retirement Community in Towson.
Richard A. Taylor died April 17 at Edenwald Retirement Community in Towson. (HANDOUT)

Richard A. Taylor, founder of a Baltimore materials testing and chemistry laboratory who was a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and participated in missions to post-Katrina New Orleans and to Appalachia, died April 17 of complications from dementia at the Edenwald Retirement Community in Towson.

He was 86.

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The son of Renwick Taylor, a department store buyer, and Mable Taylor, a homemaker, Richard Ashley Taylor was born in Sarina, Ontario.

He moved with his family in 1940 to Cumberland and graduated from Allegany High School in 1947.

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He attended the University of Maryland, College Park for two years and was drafted into the Army in 1949. He spent the next several years as an infantry medic in Korea.

Family members said his witnessing the horrors of war in Korea had a profound effect on the remainder of his life.

"Upon his return, he dedicated his life to pacifism, peace and service to humanity," a daughter, Susan Ashley Taylor of Greenbelt, wrote in an email.

He returned to College Park and became a naturalized American citizen in the mid-1950s.

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Mr. Taylor worked from 1959 to 1971 as a research and development chemist at Allied Research Co. in East Baltimore, where he developed protective coatings primarily for the aerospace and automotive industries.

"He sought connection with people and pursued experiences outside of his regular routine," wrote Ms. Taylor. "During his lunch hour, he regularly rode his bike to patronize and visit barbershops in the public housing neighborhoods of Baltimore."

In 1971, Mr. Taylor founded Ashley Laboratories LLC, a Parkville materials testing and inorganic chemistry laboratory that served the metal finishing industry. He was an active member and served as president of the American Electroplaters Society.

"As a business owner, he stayed true to his politics, refusing work from customers who treated their employees poorly," wrote Ms. Taylor.

In 2011, because of declining health, Mr. Taylor retired from the business, which continues to be family-owned and operated.

While he was a resident of Carney, Mr. Taylor was an active communicant at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Parkville. He was also a warden and lay leader, and worked with youth of the church.

During the 1960s, he and his wife, the former Janet Wagner, whom he married in 1957, volunteered for Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc.

In an effort 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 various landlords and apartment complexes.

"They were doing testing and were trendsetters in the effort to achieve fair-housing equality. Testing has proven to be an effective enforcement tool," said Robert J. Strupp, executive director of Baltimore Neighborhoods.

Mr. Taylor and his family moved to Cockeysville in 1977, and he joined the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Lutherville, where he continued working with youth and went on several mission trips, including to Appalachia, to help provide housing.

"He did one trip to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and a trip to Pearlington, Miss.," said Susan Escobedo, a member of Holy Comforter who helps organize mission trips. "He was ... helping to clean out houses, taking up carpet and clearing out cupboards."

"This was a calling of his — to do missionary work — because he wanted to help people. Bob was such a big asset," she said. "He was also quite a jokester, and he loved making everyone feel good. He always had a smile on his face and got along well with everybody."

He was a weekly volunteer with Habitat for Humanity until he was 75 years old. He primarily worked in Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, restoring dilapidated houses. Mr. Taylor also worked at various soup kitchens.

"He always said, 'If you've had breakfast, you're ahead of half the world,'" wrote his daughter. "He worked for years feeding breakfast to folks experiencing homelessness and 'adopting' under-resourced families with food and gifts."

Mr. Taylor enjoyed taking courses. He and his wife were active members of Elderhostel and had participated in more than 30 "Road Scholar" programs from Canada to Argentina.

He enjoyed French wines and Asian cooking.

He also had been a flier. He earned a private pilot's license in the 1960s and had been a member of the Civil Air Patrol.

He was a patron of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a subscriber to many theaters, including the Everyman Theatre. He was a fan of the music of Tchaikovsky, Gilbert & Sullivan, Pete Seeger and Tom Lehrer, family members said.

Mr. Taylor had lived at Edenwald since 2008. He was known for his "wit and wisdom," wrote his daughter. She said he promoted a personal philosophy: "Don't postpone joy."

Services will be held at 11 a.m. June 10 at his church, 130 W. Seminary Ave., Lutherville, and at 11:30 a.m. June 11 at Edenwald, 800 Southerly Road, Towson.

In addition to his wife of 59 years and daughter, Mr. Taylor is survived by two sons, Joshua Bryan Taylor of Reisterstown and Derek Ian Taylor of San Francisco; another daughter, Janet Taylor Hall of Sparks; a brother, Roy Taylor of La Vale; a sister, Charlotte Taylor of Fayetteville, Ark.; and seven grandchildren.

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