The service on the campus of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar March 30 was planned as a celebration of a life well-lived in the service of Judy Taylor’s family, church and the university. She died March 26.
Since she and husband C. Pat Taylor first arrived on campus for him to assume the SBU presidency in 1996, Judy Taylor had been an active and productive First Lady of the university.
An accomplished educator herself, she became an assistant professor at the school within a year of their arrival and served in that role nearly 10 years. She became director of the English Institute for SBU’s partnership with the Brazilian state of Roraima, and the couple threw themselves into it.
A signature of her service was participation in campus beautification projects. Her love of gardening and flowers gave her the chance to don work clothes and join students and others in frequent workdays to help transform the SBU campus.
Judy was a gracious hostess alongside her husband at a number of campus events, many of them in the President’s Home.
She and her husband have devoted themselves into the life of SBU over the past 20 years. Both have been highly visible to students and intentionally interacted with them on campus.
Judy was probably not as well known to the current crop of students. A debilitating disease was finally diagnosed three years ago but even before that her public activities became increasingly rare. It is a shame that many of the students could not see the vivacious personality and experience the personal support she and the president had made an important part of their service to SBU.
Speakers and musicians paid tribute to the late First Lady in Mabee Chapel on campus as an estimated 1,000 students, staff, alumni, family and friends paid their respects.
Professor of Music and Director of Choral Studies James Tarrant led the SBU combined choirs and orchestra in several classical works and gospel selections in honor of Mrs. Taylor, a musician herself. Music Evangelist Charles Graham, who attended SBU, sang several solos in her honor. Bill Brown, who retired in 2015 as SBU provost, performed piano selections.
Bob Agee, president of Oklahoma Baptist University during the time the Taylors served their before coming to SBU, recalled memories of Judy and her family and reminded the gathering, “We don’t grieve as those who have no hope. We shed our tears but with a reality that death is not the end.”
Billy Russell, the Taylors’ pastor at First Baptist Church of Bolivar, preached on Judy’s favorite passage from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13 — the love chapter. He noted that her joy and love for others flowed out of her relationship with the Lord and were rooted in God’s love.
Goddaughter Robin Parrish McAlister recalled the first lady’s caring personality, humor, kindness, wisdom, grace and joy as her family and the Taylors became close friends back in Oklahoma.
One of the most moving parts of the service was the reading by Pat Baker of the testimony of Judy’s personal caregiver the past two years, Stephanie Rovenstine.
Rovenstine said the close relationship had been one that changed her life as she and Judy became friends and as they unexpectedly discovered they had so much in common. In her testimony, she described their interaction and activities over Judy’s final two years.
Like the others, she praised Judy for living out her faith in action and attitude.
The service was certainly appropriate for the death of the spouse of an active university president, but it was fittingly a tribute to a lady and servant who distinguished herself in many ways for her own specific contributions not only to family, church and university but even to the broader community.
We all should live out our Christian faith as well.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.