Writer, Editor, Friend

Editor’s note: Ron Taylor, a legendary journalist and a truly beloved member of the Like the Dew community, died the morning of May 31.
Dew writers would know him best as their night editor. Most nights for the past three years, Ron would take the submitted stories, edit, find art and turn them into Dew posts. He would look at the page and search for what was missing – seeking out other stories from a cadre of writers whose stories they trusted to Ron to repost or he’d “knock something out” to fill the hole. Then very late each night, it was Ron who hit the submit button to send out the morning Dewsletter. He didn’t do it for fame and certainly not for the money, Ron did it because of his friends.
His long-time colleagues and friends Ann Woolner and Leonard Ray Teel wrote this obituary, which was authorized by Ron’s family. Like the Dew welcomes and encourages additional tributes in the coming days.

James Ronald "Ron" Taylor
James Ronald “Ron” Taylor

James Ronald “Ron” Taylor, award-winning journalist and internationally-known author and lecturer, died Thursday in Hospice Atlanta with metastatic melanoma. He was 65.

Born in Trion, Georgia, to a mill-worker and a homemaker, Taylor worked for 41 years at the Atlanta Journal and Constitution as a feature writer, editor and online producer for ajc.com and AccessAtlanta. Articles he wrote or co-authored exposed unhealthy and cruel conditions at the Atlanta Zoo in 1983, prompting a transformative overhaul there; won a national prize for revealing Georgia’s deteriorating mental health system; and broke ground in 1983 with early reporting on the HIV virus at a time when few news organizations dared write about it. Taylor traveled to Haiti to do more AIDS reporting.

“AIDS: The killer that no one understands,” read the front page headline on the first of several such stories, which garnered more awards.

“Among all the savvy, talented people in the Journal newsroom, he was our very best writer,” said Bob Johnson, longtime Journal city editor.

Before the afternoon Journal and morning Constitution merged reporting staffs in 1982, they competed, although the Cox family owned both papers. “Ron was the only feature writer who worried us,” said Jim Auchmutey, a feature writer at the Constitution before the merger.

Taylor began as a sports reporter working for the Summerville News in his hometown in the foothills of the Appalachians. In later years, his reputation as an American journalist reached around the world through his teaching and through the journalism textbook he co-authored, which promoted honest reporting and “writing with style.”

He defined style as “that quality buried in us all which manifests itself as a shout of distinction. The person who has found his or her style leaves some personal mark upon the work.”

Taylor left his personal mark on his state, his hometown, his adopted city and on aspiring journalists across the globe, as well as his friends and family.  He  especially cherished time with his son, Alex Brooke Taylor, whether camping, fishing or taking him and his friends to a punk rock concert.

Born July 29, 1946, in Trion to James and Bertha Bethania Crawford Taylor, Taylor grew up in nearby Summerville and began writing as a small boy. “I remember his Tom Thumb typewriter and his little desk that he would sit at and write,” recalled his cousin, Nancy Zeigler, who lived next door. He wrote plays in grade school and high school.

While in Summerville, he was active in the Baptist church, sometimes taking to the pulpit to preach as an adolescent, according to his sister, Angela T. Mitchell. One summer he worked sweeping cotton dust from the floors of a textile mill near Trion, Georgia, which employed his father, a World War II veteran who had stormed the beaches of Normandy. The job prompted the younger Taylor to declare that mill work wouldn’t be the life for him.

In school, Taylor played football and by his senior year in high school had begun working for the local paper covering  high school sports, an important beat in the small town South. The first in his family to attend college when he went to the University of Georgia in 1964, Taylor continued writing a column, Taylor Talks, for his hometown paper. He also joined the staff of the Red and Black student newspaper at UGA as a sportswriter and, later, columnist, taking over as editor his senior year, 1967-68.

Taylor married his college sweetheart, Lynn McGaughey, in a union that ended in divorce. They had one child, Alex Brooke Taylor, of Atlanta.

In college Taylor aspired to a career in sportswriting, but the assassination in 1968 of Martin Luther King Jr. changed his focus to news, which he considered more meaningful.

He joined the staff of the Atlanta Journal that year and quickly established himself as a versatile reporter and skilled story teller.

He was soon winning awards for a series on suburban life in north Atlanta, “The Golden Ghetto,” and as one of the reporters of the series, “Two Atlantas- -Living in Limbo,” an in-depth look at race relations and a follow-up to an earlier series.

He reported from Plains, Georgia, election night 1976 when Jimmy Carter was elected president, and from Washington, D.C., that January for Carter’s inauguration. He wrote on homelessness in Atlanta, and later helped edit and direct a team of reporters covering the South.

“One of our duties was to guide coverage of every hurricane that whipped through the region,” said Keith Graham, then an editor on the national desk. “Ron was especially adept at pulling together files from reporters in the field and assembling them into a coherent main piece, usually with the bylines going to a couple of the reporters out braving the storms.”

The work that produced the most dramatic reform began when Taylor reported that the Atlanta Zoo had sold a sickly, 12-year-old elephant named Twinkles to a traveling circus, where she died in a trailer. He and then-reporter Susan Faludi followed up with articles about Kodiak bears the zoo had lent out turning up dead in a roadside menagerie, zoo personnel making rabbit stew from animals intended for the children’s zoo and raising chickens and pigs for slaughter.

Filthy conditions, inhumane treatment and incompetent management gave way when the stories provoked public outrage and city leaders mounted an effort to re-make the facility into Zoo Atlanta, considered first-class.

Taylor “had an innate sense for human interest, honesty, and humor,” said his co-author Leonard Ray Teel, a former Journal reporter who teaches journalism at Georgia State University. “He had grown up interested in people’s stories. As a journalist he listened to not just two sides, but many, and then pieced together the full story, with style.”

Their book, Into the Newsroom, influenced students and working journalists around the world, translated into Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and Armenian. Overseas English editions reached students from India to Nigeria.

In recent years, Taylor devoted vacations to traveling to the Middle East and North Africa where he taught Arab journalists and students eager to learn American standards.

He left print journalism for AJC.com around 2003, which required him to master code for posting stories and photos. “It was a learning curve most people on the print side weren’t willing to tackle,” said Hyde Post, former vice president for the Internet at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Known among his coworkers and friends for his contagious laugh, his easy smile and his quick, off-beat humor, Taylor was an avid hiker and camper. “He wasn’t the most athletic hiker that ever hit the trail, but he sure did like it,” said Post, one of his hiking partners. “He was intrepid.”

Taylor regularly organized “camp-outs” at the Blue Ridge spread of former Journal reporter, Johnny Turner and his wife, Dianne, posting hilarious memos on the newspaper’s bulletin board inviting whomever wished to come.

Taylor also loved music,  said his son, who lives in Atlanta.  When Alex was 13, his dad took him and some friends to see The Clash, whose album, Sandinista! was a favorite of both father and son.

After retiring from the Atlanta newspapers in 2009, Taylor continued to write for the Atlanta-based web publication, LikeTheDew.com. One recent piece, “Reflections on Cairo in Calmer Times,” was his memoir of the city when he taught there before the revolution.

“I have visited Cairo four times, and I have made friends there. It remains one of my favorite cities for the very reasons some people don’t like it: It is old, a little dirty and full of restless people. And there is nothing more awesome than viewing the Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza for the first time, even with a Kentucky Fried Chicken just across the street.

“When last we were in Cairo, we rented a horse and carriage to cross the bridge after visiting the U.S. Embassy and managed to beat most of the suicidal rush-hour traffic back to our hotel. The sky was clear and the Nile was steel blue except for the occasional faluka taking tourists for a river ride.”

Taylor leaves his son, Alex; daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Strickler; and grandson, Cassius Seanor Taylor; all of Atlanta. He is also survived by his sister, Angela; brother-in-law Dale Mitchell, both of Summerville; niece Stephanie Griffin; her husband Bryan; their three children, all of Huntsville, Alabama.

Southcare Cremation and Funeral Society is handling his cremation. The family invites friends and admirers to gather at Manuel’s Tavern in Atlanta on Wednesday, June 6, beginning at 6 p.m., to memorialize him.

The family asks that any memorial contributions be made to CURE Childhood Cancer, 1117 Perimeter Center West, Ste. N-402, Atlanta, GA  30338 | 800 443-CURE.

 

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Ann Woolner & Leonard Ray Teel

Ann Woolner & Leonard Ray Teel

Ann Woolner is a journalist with a national following. She previously worked at The Atlanta Journal, the Fulton Daily Report and the Bloomberg news service. She currently divides her time between Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia.
Dr. Leonard Ray Teel is a professor in the Department of Communication, specializing in international journalism and mass communication and in media history. His most recent book, Ralph Emerson McGill: Voice of the Southern Conscience (2001), won the Kappa Tau Alpha Frank Luther Mott Award. Into the Newsroom: An Introduction to Journalism, co-authored with Ron Taylor, has been translated into Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and Armenian. He is a co-founder and past president of the Arab-U.S. Association for Communication Educators and has conducted media workshops across the Arab world.

28 Comments
  1. Frank Povah

    Rest in Peace, Ron – but let not the grave deter you from harassing the liars and the malefactors. The world is in dire need of real journalists.—Frank Povah

  2. Robert Lamb

    Nice job, Ann. Ron was one of the best.

  3. Beautiful tribute,Ann. I was the editor on the zoo series written by Ron and Susan, and never, before or since, saw two reporters work so hard on a story. They started with a news brief and ended up transforming an Atlanta institution. The article Ron wrote about Twinkles the elephant being buried by the side of the road by a traveling circus was one of the most poignant and heart rending articles I ever edited.

  4. Wondered why Ron’s compendia of the wonderful and weird in Georgia hadn’t appeared in quite a while. Thank you to all who knew and loved Ron, especially to Lee for giving him an outlet for his work and to Ann, who wrote such a wonderful obit for a beloved journalist. See you Wednesday.

  5. Thank you Ann for helping me to better know a man I wish I could have known.

  6. A powerful voice such as Ron’s will never truly be silenced……but missed. 

  7. Mike Williams

    I had the good
    fortune to work for Ron for several years on the AJC Regional Desk. He had a
    sure, light touch as an editor, both in his handling of copy and his “running”
    of reporters. He was laid-back, wry, collegial and funny as hell. I did not
    know of his award-winning work as a dedicated reporter who righted many wrongs,
    but I’m not surprised to learn of it. I think Ron had newspapers in his blood,
    and I liked working for him because of it. When we both left the Atlanta papers
    and found Like The Dew as a new outlet for our work, it felt like old times to
    have him edit my copy again. I think he just didn’t want to give it up – the
    night owl scanning the wires through the wee hours, shaping a lens on the world
    that readers would pick up the next morning, unknowingly guided by Ron’s
    bemused, unflinching, progressive hand.

  8. Melinda Ennis

    Ann, what a lovely tribute to Ron. Although I did not know him well, my last memory of him is very fittingly, from Manuels. Just before his diagnosis, we met Ron, his girlfriend and Keith & Chrys there for beers, but had to leave suddenly because of a family emergency. What I remember most (every time I ever saw him) was his smile, which was one that seemed to penetrate the heart. Indeed, from all the tributes and comments from people dear to me who loved Ron so much, he penetrated many hearts with his wit, wisdom, kindness…and that smile. My sadness now is a combination of the fact that I will never get to know him the way all of you who knew and loved him did…. and the world’s loss of such a exceptional man and wonderful soul.

  9. Thanks, Ann and Leonard. Ron definitely was a shout of distinction.

  10. Chrys B. Graham

    Beautiful piece on our friend,Ron. He will be sorely missed but well remembered.

  11. In the words of the ancient Hebrew prayer for the dead, “May his soul be forever bound up in the eternal bonds of life.”

  12. Thanks for the obit. Ron was one of my first editors at the paper when I came 22 years ago. I came across one of his old stories in Documaster (our electronic file) and became one of his biggest fans, reading his archives to 1) get a feel for the South and 2) read some damn good writin’

    I last saw Ron at the Paul McCartney concert at Piedmont a couple years ago. He was camped out one blanket over in the big field. I remember chucklin watching Ron sway his booty to old Beatle tunes.

  13. I joined the AJC immediately post merger and had an unforgettable lunch with Ron and Mike Christensen who shared their sagas of being in favor and out of favor at the paper over the years. (Had I not just signed a year’s lease on an apartment with Candi Sitton, I might have run back to my former job in Florida.)
    Their advice — don’t get upset over drops in status or new polices as things change rapidly at 72 Marietta — served me well. Ron was a wonderful colleague who offered guidance, perspective , wit and calm. My condolences to his son and his family.

  14. A beautiful tribute. How lucky we were as students to have Leonard and Ron as teachers, mentors and friends.

  15. I remember Ron when I was at the Atlanta Journal from 1979 to 1982, and unfortunately hadn’t seen him since. He was admired by pretty much everyone of as the best writer at the paper. God bless him.

  16. Ann and Leonard, thanks for the marvelous tribute to an incredible journalist and writer and an even better human being. It was a privilege to have known him and worked with him.

  17. Great tribute. Like Mike Williams, I worked for Ron on the AJC Regional
    Desk, one of the best gigs I ever had at the paper. Ron edited with a writerly
    touch and tweaked phrases ever so gently so that they stayed in your voice
    without becoming his. Mike, Chris Burritt and I made regular work of standing
    on beaches in the South when hurricanes roared ashore. From Atlanta, Ron
    knitted our dispatches into seamless prose, like he was there watching the
    storm himself from Daytona Beach, Fla., or Kill Devil Hills, N.C., or
    Charleston, S.C. Much of what I learned about storytelling I owe to Ron. Among
    my favorite stories that Ron edited: the election of Selma’s first black mayor,
    a feature on the pastor of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church
    and the years-long search for Olympic Park bomber Eric Robert Rudolph. We brainstormed
    the ideas before I went out, and Ron always made what I thought was finished
    copy so much better.

  18. Joey Ledford

    I will always remember Ron for his talent and his infectious laugh, which you could hear across the newsroom. I first got to know him when he was sent to the Gwinnett Bureau in the late ’80s when we were waging war with the New York Times-owned Gwinnett Daily News. What a weapon it was to have a writer of his caliber in the stable. He required almost no editing and never complained about having been dispatched to the ‘burbs. This city will miss his voice — and that laugh.

  19. Very nice tribute, Ann and Leonard. Just to clarify: When I started out as a features editor at the Consti pre-merger, those of us on the 8th floor thought Leonard and some of the other Journal writers were pretty good as well. We just thought Ron was the best. When I came downstairs to the city desk after the merger, I saw him at the top of his game, doing those zoo stories and the early HIV stuff, and I was always struck by how laid-back he was. He was like a ballplayer who doesn’t get too excited when he hits a homer because he knows it’s a long season full of ups and downs. He was a true pro and set a great example for the rest of us.

  20. I said this on Facebook and I will say it again here. Ron was a great man with a ready smile … And this in the days of curmudgeonly journalism. It was an honor to know him and a pleasure to be around him.

  21. Ann and Leonard, my heart goes out to you both, especially when I picture in my mind the two of you writing this wonderful tribute to Ron. You were among his closest, most beloved friends. So many hearts are broken, but yours surely must ache with an incomparable sorrow. In the past two years, Ron and I had lunch a few times and went for walks on the grounds of the Carter Center. We also sat around a campfire in our back yard one fall evening, drinking beer and conjuring up visions from the glory days. I want you to know that he spoke of you with such kindness. You were important to him. He loved you. He was grateful for you. I can envision him smiling hugely at this thorough, accurate and well-crafted piece of journalism about the late, Great Ron Taylor. ~Karen Thurston

  22. Leonard Ray, Ann, Ron and I all worked together at the Atlanta Journal in the early 1970s, though I also attended the University of Georgia and worked on the Red and Black with him. He was a great reporter and a better man. And the drunkest I have ever been was at a marathon bowl game party on New Year’s Day at his apartment. Wish I could be with you at Manuel’s. Godspeed Ron.

  23. Such sad news. Ron was one of my favorite people in the newsroom. He always had such an easy, infectious laugh, one that negated the horrible vibe in the newsroom at that time. More than a great journalist, he was a great person. He stayed true to himself, maintaining his integrity despite the everchanging politics at the paper in the mid 1980s. Thanks for being an oasis of kindness for me and, I’m sure, to many others.

  24. Thanks for this! I loved Ron; he was the epitome of kindness. A tough journalist, but such a sweet man.

  25. A man with a great heart and boundless energy to get the story first and get it right. We bumped into one another in news venues around town in the 70s and 80s. That smile and laugh always made me feel welcome in the press scrum.

  26. Ron was a gifted writer and editor, but the thing I remember most about him is that wonderful, infectious laugh. From across the Newsroom, even if you didn’t know what caused that laugh, you just had to smile.

  27. I just always really
    liked Ron, we always laughed. Met him for the first time, not in the newsroom
    but at Manuals, fittingly, saw him off there. He introduced me and Steve
    Dougherty to the Clermont Lounge calling it Atlanta’s Cultural Icon … always
    loved the sign going downstairs, “Check your guns at the door” …
    I’ll miss that boy

    Trev

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