Monday, July 21, 2008

Jimmizine Taylor and Her Influence on Me

It is not often that I write about a person who is not Latter-day Saints but Jimmizine Taylor is a person that touched my life for good and has been an inspiration to me. Back in 2000 I took a job at Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black University located twenty miles northwest of Houston and worked there for over four years. Ms. Taylor worked there in the special collection/archives. I was her direct supervisor. Jimmizine was around 80 years old and had more spunk and get up and go than many people half her age. She enthralled me with her stories such as how she came by train to Prairie View in the fall of 1946 from Atlanta University where she had completed her library degree.

She told me some stories like how they form a human chain to pass the books between the former library in the Banks Building which was the old administration building of the university along a dirt walk to the new library. She told me of their comadrie in the library and that a former director who had a watermelon bust every Friday afternoon. Landis Jones, one of her colleagues, was born in a house that was on the campus. She talked about the involvement of past presidents who lived right on the campus until around 2002. She was apalled when the two past presidents took a huge housing allowance around $5,000 per month and moved off campus. Not because they were making big money but because she felt there was something special about their involvement with students.

She told me repeatedly she was a "people person." I knew she really was. She asked me all the time about my eight children. She was one of the few in the library that really cared about how my family was doing. When they graduated she would ask me about it or where they would attend college. She was always concerned about people were. Everywhere I would go people would ask me when I told them I worked at Prairie View A&M did I know Ms. Taylor. When I told not only did I know her I was her boss they would tell me about how they had been helped by her or worked for her as a student. Everyone I met who knew her loved her. Even when I served on a Ketchum Capital Campaign Committee with Marvin Brailsford and Julius Becton, two former military generals, they would ask about Ms. Taylor.

One day I was talking to one of them about about how the VPAA Joanne Thomas Smith wanted me to get Ms. Taylor to retire. Thomas Smith had called me in and insisted that I get Ms. Taylor to retire in strong language and that I was to just plain do it. I told her I thought it was a bad idea since Ms. Taylor still had her mental faculties and was well loved. I told her we would lose the collective historical memory of the campus. Thomas Smith insisted that she just needed to call it a day and I should just tell her to retire. I didn't agree but I knew Thomas Smith was a hard woman and would make my life miserable if I didn't do it. She was a tough nosed administrator.

I kept stressing to Dr. Thomas Smith that Ms. Taylor was the historical memory of the campus and it would be a loss for students and faculty not to have her on campus. When anyone wanted to know something about the past they called Ms. Taylor who had lived through the event and remembered it. Her mind was sharp even if on occasion she might drift off over her cane for a few minutes. I needed to find a solution to keep Ms. Taylor and not jeopardize my job. I told the General about my being squeezed to make her retire and did he have any suggestions. He told me in his opinion it would be political suicide for anyone that forced her to retire. I had told Ms. Taylor as long as I was director she would always have a job. The general told me that it was good that I felt that way since most alumni would be angry if she were ever forced out.

One thing that happened was that Ms. Taylor used to park by the loading docket behind the library. She was told she couldn't park there any more. Everyone thought surely this would force her to retire. But Ms. Tayor was undeterred. One of her boys worked in the physical plant and he stayed over one hour not being paid every morning to drive Ms. Taylor the block from the lot to the front of the library. Then she would climb the stairs and ever so slowly walk to the elevator and go up to the fifth floor. In the even of a fire or emergency I made special arrangements that if a male student worker or Ms. Earles wasn't there to help I was to be called to help her down the stairs. I finally negotiated with Lettie Raab that she could park in the University College Parking lot adverting her retirement due to hardship of getting to work.

I came up with a solution to save her job. I went to her and told her I wanted to throw a party to honor her while she was still vigorious and could enjoy it. I went up to her office and reaffirmed my pledge that as long as I were director I would never fire her. I said just because we have a party doesn't mean you have to retire. She told me that she would die if she had to stay home because it would make her old. She said as long as she could come in every day she stayed young and could make a difference in the world. To her the students and staff were the children that she never had. She told me she would get back to me. After much discussion she told me to go ahead with it. We have a hugh party to celebrate her fifty-five years of devoted service.

I had Phyllis Earles and Marion Williams work on putting together a party in the public events room of the library. The gathering was really quite impressive with widows of professors, public officials, students, library staff and even Dr. Thomas Smith herself showing up. Landis Jones taped the meeting. It wasn't your usual meeting. It was like a religious revival meeting. We had anyone stand up who felt they wanted to say something about her work and contributions. People like Alfred Poindexter, legendary professor and veternarian came and told how he had come at about the same time and how they had seen the campus develop and students be allowed to get an education despite discriminatory conditions. It was interesting that the two had a close friendship and both wanted to outlast the other as the longest person working. I think Ms. Taylor beat him by a few months. Frank Jackson the mayor of Prairie View read a resolution honoring that as Jimmizine Taylor day. It was really a very special event. Then unbelievably Joanne Thomas Smith rose to her feet and said "Bruno was right about Ms. Taylor." She went on to say how they needed Ms. Taylor at Prairie View for as long as she wanted to be there.

I contacted Texas A&M University right after the event when I read their system-wide newsletter talking about people with forty or fifty years service. I told them I have a person you need to feature. Ms. Taylor was put in their slick annual feature of exceptional people which included a Nobel Prize winner. I truly respected what Jimmizine Taylor stood for irregardless of race, religion, or belief. She will always symbolize the best of the library profession.

I revered Ms. Taylor for her devotion not only to the institution which she loved but to the library profession. Until her seventies she was very active in the Texas Library Association and she was the head of the reference department until the 1990s. She moved up to the archives when she lost her mobility. I have to say that she actually handles lots of enquiries on a daily basis and was more valuable than an online catalog because she remember literally dozens of items at the folder level on a myriad of subjects. She and Phyllis Earles became a team. In a strange way they helped each other be better as both learned from each other.

When I was later forced out of my job she was one of the few who cared that I was no longer going to be there. My boss accused me of giving Ms. Taylor preferential treatment. Ms. Taylor was treated fairly by me and for the most part was productive. Ms. Taylor didn't care that I was white and she was black like many people at PVAMU. She saw what was inside of people. She knew that I loved the students and faculty as much as she did. She knew I was there to make a difference and she respected those who stood for their beliefs. She was inspiration to me and a role model. She lived her life for Prairie View A&M University. Her commitment to PVAMU will be hard to beat for the fact of longevity and faithfulness. I know it has helped me be a better person and whenever I think about someone that has sacrificed for a cause I think of Jimmizine Taylor who gave her life to serve her friends.

In an interesting way even LDS can take a page from her book. In my management experience I have found few that will give their lives let alone a lifetime commitment to one organization. One day I talked to her about the fact she had put hundreds of thousands of dollars in to the Texas State retirement plan and would never live to collect it if she kept working. She told me she didn't care about the money she only cared about making a difference in the lives of others as long as her health permitted she would be there. I have hired a few LDS librarians who told me straight up that if a better job came along paying a few thousand they would leave me. I myself have never stayed longer than five or six years anywhere. I know few organizations today look out for their people so sometimes it is understandable but for the most part there are very few that love their jobs so much that they would stay for sixty-one years. I will miss Jimmizine Taylor who is a legend as a librarian and person. I hope I can be as dedicated to my church as she was to her job.

1 comment:

S.Faux said...

Some people ya just know are going to heaven... amen.