Former Conference Lay Leader Pete Taylor Is Mourned

May 01, 2009

Pete Taylor, Lay Leader for the California-Nevada Annual Conference for eight years, died peacefully on Wednesday, April 29 at 11 a.m., according to his beloved wife, Veronica. He was 80 years of age.


Remembered as a man who loved The United Methodist Church, was deeply committed to racial justice, and was a passionate proponent for the next generation of leadership, Pete also was a devoted husband, father, and grandfather and an avid outdoorsman.


He was a native of Houston, Texas who moved to Oakland with his family in 1942, when he was in 8th grade. He graduated from Oakland Technical High School and San Francisco State University, where he majored in recreation - though his education was interrupted when, in his senior year, he was drafted to serve in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict.


Post-graduate study in religious leadership at Pacific School of Religion in 1955 helped him qualify for his first civilian job, as Youth Program Director at North Oakland YMCA. He also served as a District Executive with the Boy Scouts of America before going on to work for the City of Oakland Housing Authority, where he held several management positions over the course of 28 years, including Director of Community Services. In that position, where he was responsible for programs related to youth, families, and senior citizens of low income, he was able to advocate for racial justice for African Americans and other racial-ethnic groups.


Pete was an early member of Downs United Methodist Church, which he joined in 1956, and served the church and the California-Nevada Annual Conference in numerous capacities over the years. He served on or chaired most of the committees at Downs, including United Methodist Men, Black Methodists for Church Renewal (BMCR), Funeral Ministry, and his most recent, Communion Ministry - in addition to serving as church Lay Leader for 13 years. He also helped found the Loaves and Fishes program to serve the homeless and poor, represented Downs as a member of the Board of Trustees of Alameda County Food Bank, volunteered with BSA Troop 33 (meeting at Downs), and was an active participant with the East Bay Congress of United Methodist Men. He and Veronica were among the handful of members who began Downs' tradition of providing Thanksgiving Dinner for the North Oakland Community.


Pete helped push the racial barrier within the denomination. He was the first African American elected President of the United Methodist Men and the first African American to serve as Annual Conference Lay Leader for the California-Nevada Annual Conference. Elected in July, 2000, Pete served for eight years until retiring from the position following Annual Conference Session in 2008.


He served as 1992 Delegate to General Conference; Conference President of United Methodist Men; Chair of the Board of Laity; as member of the Conference Councils on Ministry, Nominations, and Episcopacy; and as a member of the Lay Ministers' Program Committee, Commission on Religion and Race, Angola Partnership Task Force, and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission Board.

(Photo above shows Pete on 2007 Ministry Staff UMVIM trip to New Orleans. He is at far left, second row.)   

Pete's numerous contributions to the Conference were recognized in 1990, when he was presented with a Bishop's Award. In 1992 Pete received the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award for his work with urban African American and Hispanic youth - and at Annual Conference Session last year, he was presented the Bishop Melvin Talbert Award for Racial Justice.


The annual award is given to a person within our Annual Conference "who best exemplifies a proactive stance in addressing and working toward dismantling racism in the church and society," according to CORR Chair Jeffrey Kuan.


In presenting the award, Kuan said, "It has been my delight to work closely with this gentleman and I have been impressed with his commitment for building a diverse and inclusive church. I have witnessed him being moved with compassion by the plight of immigrants during our visit to Sasabe, Mexico. I have heard him advocate with passion on behalf of racial-ethnic churches in their ministries."


Today, saddened at the loss of his colleague and friend, Kuan spoke of the "very compassionate person" whose commitment to diversity was "a very powerful statement of how he lived his life." He reflected on how Pete brought "a very quiet, anchored presence" to meetings. "Most of the time he would be there listening, but when he spoke - people listened," Kuan said.


He noted that CORR departed from tradition in deciding last year to honor one of its own members, rather than someone from outside the commission. It was recognition, he said, that when there was "such a significant person for this award" within CORR's own ranks, it was only appropriate to thank and honor him.


Pete had suffered from congestive heart failure in recent years, but did not allow health concerns to deter him from ministry. During a May, 2007 hospitalization he - in typical fashion - worked on Laity matters from his hospital bed, and it has been a small joke within the Conference that when he retired as Lay Leader, "it took two people to replace him."


Gayle Shearman, named co-Lay Leader, with Burt Yin, in July, 2008, reflected today, "The thing that struck me most about Pete was how he handled his role as a team leader. It was never 'Pete's Board' or 'what Pete thought should happen.' He developed leadership among the team he worked with by assessing what each person was best at and delegating responsibilities that fit with and expanded their capabilities - and with all participating, the Board succeeded. He was definitely a conductor of the orchestra and never dreamed he could play all the parts, but knew that with his team, he could create a masterpiece. And he was front and center in that role.
(Yin is shown presenting a retirement gift to Pete, in photo above.)

"He had a heart for all that that was good in this world and his presence was felt within all those realms. He and 'Ronnie' were together much of the time of his ministry within the Conference, and she always was in the loop and ready to be supportive of all of us in the Board of Laity.


"And I will never forget the story I shared at Annual Conference - about his returning from a lunch break at one of our meetings and being so excited about finding a pink fuzzy-covered Bible for Girls to share with one of his granddaughters!


"He was always concerned about each of our personal journeys: spiritual and day-to-day, and keeping the balance. We had several conversations in the year we shared preparing for our transition in leadership, in which we talked of the challenges in our recent journeys, and he shared his faith in the grace that leads us day to day, which was so strong and supportive. He was a mentor, a leader, a listener, and a friend to many in this Conference - and while his presence will remain with us, we will miss the tall guy ambling into the room, saying, 'Welcome, how are things with you?'"


Shearman says she also will miss the poems and greetings that he shared throughout the year with all his friends.
(At left, Pete is flanked by Julie and Jesse Chang at the latter's retirement party. Bishop Shamana is at far right.)


Besides his wife, Veronica, "his nearly constant companion and confidante," Pete Taylor leaves eight children and a host of others who will miss him.


Visitation will be Wednesday, May 6 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Fouche Hudson Funeral Home, 3665 Telegraph, Oakland, CA 94609, followed by Quiet Hour from 6 to 8 p.m.


Call Fouche Hudson at 510.654.8558 for directions or more information.


The funeral service has been scheduled for 11 a.m. on Thursday, May 7 at the Taylors' home church, Downs Memorial UMC, with the Rev. Lorraine McNeal, pastor of Downs, presiding.


Downs UMC is located at 6026 Idaho St., Oakland, CA 94608. You may call the church at 510.654.5858 for directions or additional information.


[Editor's Note: Besides those quoted, special thanks are due Downs Memorial UMC and the Rev. Dorothy Baker, retired, for their contributions to this story.]