Funeral Director, Farmer, Family Man
by Mike Roknick
Whenever anyone talks about (Lowell) Gary Taylor, the first thing they remember about him is the love he had for his family. Although he held many interests – such as business, hunting and farming – family was first in his mind and heart. Born in Wayne County, North Carolina, to the late Esther Daniels and Raymond W. Taylor, Gary grew up out in the country at Hood Swamp, NC, just outside of Goldsboro. Ray Taylor worked for Motor Bearings Co. Battery Co. while Esther was a clerk at the Diana Shop in downtown Goldsboro and also served as a sitter for the elderly. His family could only have a very modest lifestyle.
While attending Goldsboro High School, Gary found himself daily wandering down to the Seymour Funeral Home where he did odd jobs for no pay. He grew a fondness for the industry and decided he wanted to become a funeral director. Even in those early days his goal was to be the premier funeral director in the greater Goldsboro area.
He graduated from high school in June 1962, and he married the love of his life, Sylvia Hollowell, on Dec. 22, 1963. He attended Mt. Olive College in Mt. Olive, N.C., and with little money in his pocket he left for Gupton-Jones Mortuary School of Science in 1963. The Dallas, Texas, school was one of a handful of mortuary schools in the nation at the time.
After graduating from mortuary school in 1965, he returned to Seymour Funeral Home where he further honed his skills. He had only had two suits in his closet.
Five years later Carl Motley retired as president of Seymour Funeral Home. Gary Taylor and Ben Strickland became stockholders in the business. The death of I.T. Seymour left Gary and Ben as the sole owners.
Running a funeral home business in those days was far different than today. Answering machines were unheard of then, so someone had to stay at the home just in case the phone rang.
Gary longed for a place in the country to raise his family. He bought a 60-acre farm in nearby Grantham, NC. At first the family raised cattle, horses, hogs and at one point had 27,000 chickens. He decided to get out of chicken farming and concentrate on raising the other three animals. He was just as successful with farming as he was with his funeral home business. With the help of his family, hog production on the farm has grown to the point where it sells between 800 to 1,000 pigs a week.
“As he got older he would prefer to be on the farm rather than in a suit,’’ Brian said.
As a father, Gary was strong on discipline. “I remember when we first moved out to the family farm my two brothers, sister and I were all fighting,’’ recalled Lynn, Lowell’s son. “My mother threatened to call my dad if we didn’t stop fighting.’’ She followed through with her threat. “He showed up 20 minutes later,’’ Lynn said.
An avid hunter, Gary enjoyed competing in the National Field Trials,a rigorous competitive event where hunters ride horses while their trained bird dogs flush out coveys of quail. One of his dogs won the North Carolina championship.
“Daddy got more pleasure out of getting the dog to work as opposed to hunting,’’ Lynn remembers. He began to travel for the sport and an occasional big game hunt. Before his death, he managed to get away to a hunting trip in Canada where he bagged geese.
Gary attended the Falling Creek Baptist Church. He also was a member of Ducks Unlimited and the Goldsboro Rotary Club, where he was a president. He was also a member of the National Focus Group of Batesville Casket Co. and the First Citizens Bank Funeral Service Advisory Board.
All the while he worked at the funeral home business, he proved to be an innovator. In 1980 he built a 17,000 square foot funeral home at 1300 Wayne Memorial Drive in Goldsboro. The new funeral home allowed the business to be more efficient and offer its customers more services.
It wasn’t all business, though. A hard worker, Gary could enjoy a laugh, even if it was at his own expense. Shortly after buying two new Lincoln cars for his business, he used one to pick up a family. When he got back to his car, to his embarrassment, he discovered all the doors were locked and he had no extra keys. The family had to drive him back to town in their car where his secretary had to motor him back to the locked car with extra keys in hand.
Gary also had his hands in other enterprises. He was a founding member of the North Carolina Independent Funeral Directors Focus Group. This trade group established a select group of funeral directors in the state which meets twice yearly to share ideas. Shortly after his death the group changed its name to the Gary Taylor Funeral Directors Study Group in honor of their founding father.
He was clearly the biggest supporter of his children. His goal was to get all of his children through college and established in a business. His dream became a reality when his daughter Susan graduated college a month before his death.
As the years past, Gary groomed his children to take over the tasks of running a business.
“He got to the point where he was getting ready to retire and enjoy life after working so hard for so long,’’ Lynn said. “He was going to take a one-year sabbatical from work, but he didn’t get that opportunity.’’
On June 2, 1994, one day after talking with Brian about taking over the business, Gary climbed aboard his favorite tractor at the family farm. Less than an hour later he had passed away of a massive heart attack.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by: Brian’s wife Renee Hollowell Taylor; Lynn’s wife, Tammy Holmes Taylor; son Raymond Marc Taylor and his wife Laura Jackson Taylor; daughter, Susan Taylor and her husband Darrell Long. He is also survived by brother, Don Taylor, along with four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by sisters Glenda Taylor, and Janet T. Robbins and brother David C. (D.C.) Taylor.
His family continues the funeral home tradition. Lynn is vice president of Seymour Funeral Home and Brian serves as secretary/treasurer. But more importantly, he left behind a legacy that will carry on for generations.
“He was always there as a guide,’’ Lynn said. “He taught me strong Christian values, how to be successful in business and to be a good strong family person.’’
A family friend wrote the following poem in honor of Lowell Gary Taylor. It reveals the inner man.
A son, a brother, a friend, to describe him, it’s hard to begin;
A wonderful husband, a loving Dad, He was special, the best friend we ever had.
For us, his family, he was always there reaching out his hand,
We could always count on him, we knew he’d understand.
Deep inside of him where no one could see
He was really as sentimental as anyone could be.
So many folks he helped as he went along life’s way,
When the going for them seemed tough,
He listened, he loved he reassured them everything would be okay.
His shoulder he often lent to others on which to lean,
He was a businessman with a business sense so ever keen.
He aimed high and won with fortune and great success,
Just to make us, his family proud of him, and to bring us happiness.
It was around him that our lives revolved,
For he was in his ventures very much involved.
At the funeral home he cared for the families of those who had trusted him with their dead,
And at the farm, he made sure his hogs were watered, cool and fed.
One year ago, June 2, as he was on his tractor preparing to mow,
This warm sunny day would be his time to go;
He left without a warning, not even a “Goodbye.’’
He was gone before we knew it, and only God knows why.
We didn’t praise him as often as we should,
But we loved and admired him, and he understood.
This man, Lowell Gary Taylor, will always with us remain.
Only our lives are better because our way he came.