Ин J.M. GARCIA | Downtown & Uptown News
Pat Taylor taught reading.
But more than that she taught her students to love to read and to love the very idea of books and stories put to paper. She believed reading made people better citizens and exposed them to ideas they otherwise never would have considered. Taylor read endlessly. If a child liked turtles, she could recommend two or three books on the subject. She reached even the most reluctant student because she knew so many books.
“Pat never said why she liked teaching,” her husband, Don, recalled recently. “It was her gift, something she just had to do. She’d come home and say, ‘There was this kid with a negative attitude and I got him to read and he said find me another book.’ That made her day.”
Taylor, 75, died of a heart attack on Dec. 13, 2020. She left behind her husband and dozens of friends and former students who attribute their love of reading to her. Actively engaged in community issues, she also made an impression on local officials. Sometimes she wrote to them on the back of advertising flyers, her way of promoting recycling and sustainability. Her handwritten notes, distinctive for her precise penmanship, interweaved her political thoughts with chatty and witty observations. San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, who met Taylor in 2007 when he first campaigned for city council, exchanged notes with her for a decade. The day before she died, he received a letter from her about the U.S. Senate races in Georgia.
“When I think of the model citizen, it’s Pat,” Gloria said. “She had a life of service as a teacher and was active in retirement. She was concerned about her community and the people in it.”
Taylor, however, prioritized teaching above all her other interests. She oversaw the Independent Readers’ Club at McKinley Elementary School from 2001 to 2018 and the Rolling Readers program at Logan Memorial Educational Campus since 2008.
At Logan, Taylor would meet students in the teachers’ lounge at 1:30 p.m. She came early and brought treats and waited for the children to arrive. She never went to them. She had expectations. The students took her seriously and when they showed up, they were prepared to discuss a book. She also engaged them in arts projects. They called her Miss Pat.
I’m here to teach, Taylor would tell them, and we’ll have fun.
“Miss Pat had plans for the kids she worked with,” said Logan principal Antonio Villar. “She would leave me letters with ideas she had. Miss Pat had a force of her own. I don’t know if I could have ever said no to her.”
Taylor grew up in Minnesota, the fourth of 11 children. She graduated from college with a degree in elementary education and taught in Connecticut, Georgia and Minnesota before she and Don moved to California in 2001 to be near Don’s mother. By then, Taylor had retired after more than fifteen years of teaching but she remained committed to working with young people. That year she approached McKinley about volunteering.
“Miss Pat would ask a kid to give her a report on the book they’d read,” said retired McKinley principal Julie Ashton-Gray. “She’d tell the other students to keep reading but of course she knew they would listen to the student give their report and they did and then they wanted to read that book, too. She could act gruff and pretend she didn’t care but she had these tricks to keep them engaged.”
College freshman and former McKinley student and book club participant Emily Mattson, 19, described the club as a “coveted program.” “To get an adult to give you individual attention about a book you read made you feel special,” Mattson said.
Taylor gave students points for reading and oral reports. She quilted pillows for them to sit on and gave them foreign coins as prizes for completing a book. A child could get away with an easy book once or twice but then Taylor pushed them to read something more demanding. She had a knack for suggesting books that would help a child deal with issues at home such as a death in the family or divorce.
About twice a year, Taylor took book club members to Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza & Grill in San Diego where they were treated to ice cream sundaes courtesy of the restaurant as a reward for their participation.
“I would drive some of them to Sammy’s,” recalled Ashton-Gray, “and they’d all be in the back seat reading a book. You’d think they’d be listening to music but they were reading. Miss Pat inspired them.”
In 2012, Taylor received a $3,000 literacy grant from the Rotary Club of San Diego and financed a visit from poet and children’s-book author Gary Soto to read at McKinley and Logan.
“Pat was a very loving person,” Soto said from his home in Berkeley, California. “She really cared. Teaching wasn’t just a job to her. Pat thought she could improve the lives of children through reading.”
— J.M. Garcia is a freelance writer/photographer in San Diego. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.