This is what I wrote, my sister edited, and the family contributed to that was read at my father's memorial service.
It would be easy enough to provide a resume for Dennis: born in Nebraska, lived in Tennessee, graduated Collegedale Academy, Southern College, Loma Linda University and so forth. But any resume would only give what could be found out quickly enough with any search. We’d like to give some details and memories that only we can. As he said himself, ‘Why let the facts get in the way of a good story?’
At the top of any list with Dennis was his love of speed. Motorcycle, car, plane; the faster the better. Motorcycles were the first step. As Bill says, “We used to ride motorcycles together. He taught me to ride by pushing me around the church parking lot on my Honda 90. Pushing my motorcycle until I got the feel of it was hard work for someone who didn't like to run. He not only taught me to ride, but to ride well; watch the road surface, beware of the cars around me... defensive driving before defensive driving was a term. Taught me what an apex was in a corner; how to brake in and accelerate out. Daddy taught us to drive, but Dennis taught me how much fun it was.” Thus began a series of driving instructor roles.
By the time Dennis and Joan were dating, Dennis was well established as a motorcycle rider. Joan says: “When we were in college women weren’t supposed to were pants unless they were under a dress. But that didn’t work for riding behind someone on a motorcycle. So, I’d wear a rain coat to sneak out of the dorm with them on and meet Dennis at the parking lot of Hackman Hall. Then, I’d roll up the jacket and sit on it. Since I’d borrow Bill’s helmet, everyone thought it was Bill riding along.” His mother used to pester him to wear something warm while he rode. But, he’d tell her that he didn’t need to wear more than a light jacket because he didn’t breathe from the time he left the house until he got to Southern College’s administration building. We’re not quite sure if she believed him, but we’re sure she knew he could drive pretty fast.
From Jyll: “I was the first of the children to learn to drive and you could tell that Dad had been waiting a long time for that moment. His teaching style was one of confidence. If you think you can, you can. My first drive on the open road was from Junaluska to Fletcher at age 14. I remember the one criticism: ‘You’ve got to speed up, you’ll be pretty conspicuous if you insist on driving 50 the whole way back.’ Even though I was petrified, there was no way Dad was going to settle for just teaching me to drive an automatic. After stalling out at every light between Asheville and Skyland on Highway 25, I finally was okay with the surface roads. But definitely not the highway. And again, Dad wasn’t ready to settle. He promised me back roads and indeed we ended up in the middle of nowhere. We took the back way from Fletcher to Alt-74 that seemed to get smaller and smaller, I was sure we were lost. Dad never was lost, he had a map in his head. To my chagrin, once we’d made it through to Alt-74, suddenly we were dumped on I-240. “No, no, I can’t drive stick on the freeway’, I yelped. ‘Too late, you’re already doing it’. And he was right.”
Driving is something the Taylor boys enjoyed and Dennis wanted to see other people enjoying their cars as well. Some might have thought he was only interested in expensive cars. The truth was that he was interested in cars that did the best job. Whether that was taking the curves in the Nantahala Gorge at 90 or hauling a tractor smoothly, he had high standards for the engineers to live up to. He loved using the equipment he had to its full capacity. Even though he insisted on all wheel drive cars for all of us, when it snowed, he’d go out and pull perfect strangers out of the ditches, just because he had a 4X4 truck…and what else should you do with a truck and snow?
Lynn says: “Dad didn’t care to take the ‘scenic route’. He was always looking for the fastest way to get somewhere, which may explain the pilot’s license and love of fast cars, especially those dubbed ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ – cars that looked inconspicuous, but could get up and go when you put the hammer down.”
These standards may also seem demanding when discussing cars, but when it came to planes it was vitally important. Dane says: “Dad bought a Luscombe, a tail dragging plane, with a hand prop. He went in with two other guys in the area, but Dad probably flew most of the hours. He flew over to Asheville from Collegedale to get a flight physical to an airstrip no longer here. He didn’t know, but it was closed even then, but he saw no yellow Xs from the air, so he landed anyway. After the physical, he returned to the airport and noticed someone hanging around the plane. There was no services at the strip, obviously, so he flew down to the Hendersonville airport. When he got to the Hendersonville airport, he discovered that the person must have put dirt in the gas tank. But, luckily he had it field repaired and got back to Collegedale.
While working at Kaiser in California, he went around to several Cessna dealers, he found out that some yahoo had given a Skylane hanger-rash, bending one of the wings. With the damage history, the dealers couldn’t sell it without reporting it. Dad said, ‘Look, just fix the wing and put in some decent radios and I’ll buy it’. That was his first plane of his own.
He also wheeled and dealed on the Cessna 210 that was his third plane. Dad had combed through the ads in Trade-a-Plane, looking for something that would fit the people he wanted to bring along as well as had a short take off and landing kit. He managed to talk them down to a great price for the plane-$50,000. He met the plane in Atlanta along with a finance guy and a guy checking Dad out to make sure he could fly a plane. The finance guy thought he’d be getting a deal, but Dad only ended up putting down $25.00 and getting full financing.”
Joan remembers: “Dennis chose the Caribbean for our honeymoon. It was beautiful, but he chose it specifically to get more hours so he could get an instrument rating quicker. His choice of flying down ourselves from the wedding in North Carolina started things off with a bit of excitement. He’d left the keys to the plane in the shorts he was wearing before the ceremony and had to drive hours away to get them back from his brother before we could set off.
When he first started flying he took me along a few times. Once, there was so much headwind that cars on the road below us were going faster than the airplane. I didn’t have my pilot’s license yet and hadn’t even started learning, so I didn’t know much about how planes were operated. On one trip in and out of Collegedale, I realized you could see the ground below through a hole in floor of plane. That same trip, we landed hot, or too fast. Dennis jumped out and grabbed the strut, which holds the wings onto the plane, to slow it down. I thought, ‘Is this really how you stop a plane?’”
Bill flew often with him: “Dennis was so happy when he got his license. He had to take me for a ride. Collegedale Airport was still grass. It has rained and it was muddy. We went at night. He swore me to secrecy about that flight. I never mentioned it until now. And the details shall remain secret.
The most fun was flying his Cessna Centurion. By the time he got it, I had over 300 hours and was already qualified in the make and model. But since he was an instructor, whenever we flew together I got the left seat and he instructed.
One time we flew non-stop from Miami to Roanoke Rapids; raining in Florida and snowing in North Carolina. By the time I went for my instrument check ride I had some serious actual instrument time. The rain was so hard we couldn't see the cowling over the engine just outside the windshield. However, he was right. The ride over the Atlantic on Victor 1 was very smooth, even with the rain. We could hear an Air National Guard C-130 over Brunswick, Georgia in severe turbulence asking ATC for vectors to smoother air but we didn't even feel a bump. He flew in stuff I would never attempt, but he planned very well and always had an alternate route ready. So, I was never concerned when we flew together.”
Dennis was a computer geek before such a thing was cool, and before it was well paid. He started at college working with early computers that required meticulously prepared punch cards to make them work. He often spoke with Ray Hefferlin about how far things had come since he had studied Physics under him. Most people fix a computer to get it to run their word-processing program, or their spreadsheet, or to play a game. He fixed them just to break them and then put them together again. This time with just a little more speed, this time getting two antagonistic programs to work together, and so forth. He still had 3 ¼” discs with bootup software for Windows 3.1 waiting for the day when he could create…who knows? Possibly a computer that could make sandwiches while filling out your tax return.
While searching for parts and talking with other computer people pre-Internet, he, like them, would worry at a problem until it was fixed or until there was some way to patch it into place until the fix came along. He translated this over into other areas as well. In the best cases, it meant that he wouldn’t give up on a problem knowing that eventually something would come along that he needed. In the funniest cases, it meant that he knew that if he stuck around long enough, what he needed would come through. Dennis was never afraid to hang around an office after the subtle hints that they couldn’t or wouldn’t help. Without saying much or without saying much about the problem at hand, he’d eventually wear them down. Whether they figured out what was needed, or just wanted him out of the office is hard to say. He assumed that if you are able to do something, you should. Lynn remembers: “Dad liked the big plastic cups that they sold at the gas station. They were probably 32 oz and meant to be kept. A fast food place was doing a promotion were you could bring back a re-usable cup, also 32oz, and they’d refill it for 10% less than the regular price. Dad got that cup at some point as well, but didn’t like the shape of it. So, not fazed, he’d hand the fast food place the gas station cup. ‘Sir, that’s not our cup’. ‘I didn’t like your cup’, he’d say, still holding out the wrong one. And they just filled it.”
Dennis loved sports, originally as a player and later as an enthusiastic fan. Bill remembers: “The last time he played baseball, he and I were on the same team. He had finished the eighth grade. But, rising freshman could play in summer grade school league. He was probably the tallest eighth grader. That's why he played first base; also because first baseman didn't have to run a lot. I was moving up to sixth grade and played right field behind him. I was lucky to be on the team. We were ahead by one run, but they had last bats. Bases were loaded and there was one out. The batter hit a slow fly down the right field line. It wasn't going very fast, but it looked like it was going over Dennis and be short of me. I ran as hard as I could. But as it started to come down, Dennis went up, stretched out as far as he could... I thought he was going to tip it with his glove and eliminate any chance of me catching it. If it came to me on the ground two runs were going to score. ... as he got to the apex of his jump the ball hit his glove and it stayed in the pocket. Half of the ball was out of his glove. He came down on the base and caught the runner off the base; unassisted double play. But, the most important point for me was that I didn't look like an idiot sixth grader that lost the game.”
He always went for the most education he could get. In medicine it meant that he was double boarded, in family practice and emergency medicine. In flying, it meant not only getting an instrument rating, but also becoming a medical examiner, an instructor and getting an air transport rating which allowed him to fly anything available. He combined medicine and flying by working from Buffalo, NY in the north to Miami, FL in the south. He held more than a dozen state medical licenses at one time. His stories from the ERs were myriad.
Joan says: “One night a female was brought to the ER by the cops. She was physically fine, but was mentally unstable. Dad said that there was nothing he could do for her and they would have to take her to a psychiatric facility. As the police were taking her out, she broke away by going out the unsecured other side door of the patrol car. As she went running off, the nurses turned to Dennis saying, ‘You’ve gotta do something!’ Without moving, he said, ‘She’s going the other way, it’ll be okay.’”
It always was a source of amusement for Dennis that a Physics major and a Math major produced children who all avoided the hard sciences. But it probably shouldn’t have been such a surprise for a hard scientist brought up by a literature buff. Lynn says: “Dad was never much of a writer, though his father was a English professor. That’s not to say you’d never get a piece of mail from dad, but it would likely be a clipping (a tearing, really) from the Wall Street Journal or Barron’s. No note, just an envelope you were surprised made it through the mail system, as dad wrote with the stereotypical doctor’s handwriting, and an article about something you were interested in, or perhaps had just mentioned in passing. I typically received articles on Spanish culture, graphic design, and Maine Coon cats. Mom would send a card, with a note telling about the happenings at home, Dad sent articles.” Even though he wasn’t an expert on Romance languages, theology or journalistic ethics, it didn’t mean that he wasn’t good at finding the heart of the matter and asking you the questions you needed to be able to answer in your field.
Knowing and appreciating their humanities strengths didn’t stop Dennis from trying to show his kids the application of Physics in everyday life. Two phrases, ‘Know the angles’ and ‘Know your apex’ were regularly quoted. There was really no beating him at a game of pool. Though, if you got him talking, sometimes he’d forget whether he was stripes or solids. One of his applications of Physics was to conduct repeated gravity tests in the foyer of our house. When we were away for a few nights at a handbell gathering, he cleaned out his office. Instead of carrying the trash downstairs, he dropped it over the edge of the balcony. The cats, most definitely, could attest to the presence of gravity in the house. He was also carrying on a breeding program for flashlights and screwdrivers. We never could figure out where all of them were coming from until Dennis told us, ‘Whenever I go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and I can only remember one thing I needed, I also buy a flashlight or a screwdriver.’ And he was definitely cultivating golf balls as there are about 3,000 in the garage.
Stories like these are such non sequiturs. There are so very many when it came to Dennis. Once at dinner time, the three kids were discussing a literature assignment: memorize a Shakespearean sonnet. It went round the table people adding what they had memorized while at school. Dennis didn’t volunteer anything. ‘Didn’t you memorize anything, Dad?’ ‘Do physics constants count?’ ‘No.’
Joan said, ‘Just fill in the blanks on a few easy ones:
I think that I shall never see…England again?
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner…eating curds and whey?’
These went on and on until no one could breathe for laughing.
From Lynn: “My siblings and I attended boarding school for both academy and university, so weekends were the only time the family would be together. The cacophony of giggles at the dinner table could reach deafening levels. One of the favored past times was to see who could get Dad to laugh. He was a ‘tough audience’, as he put it, so getting more than a smile (or groan at a particularly bad pun) was difficult.”
Dennis would always nickname people and things. Lynn turned into ‘The LynnLynn’, Jyll was ‘Jyllowillo’, Dane was ‘Dan-o wain-o’. Even cars were named. On a trip to Paris, the rental car was dubbed the USS Renault, though its typically pronounced ren-o.” He nicknamed everyone at least once, even if you didn’t know it. However, his sister got a lot of the more inventive ones. The most memorable is perhaps Booffer-Hooffer.
Dennis was in his element when traveling on the Mexico Mission trips from Fletcher. He loved having to round up the things needed by the various members of the team. For someone with no ability to speak Spanish, he did an amazing job. One thing many will remember was his eye on the exchange rates. He’d buy pesos in bulk, as it were, and then do exchanges for members of the group so that they didn’t have to go to the bank themselves. We jokingly called him ‘the Banco de Nacional’ and it was one of the few nicknames that stuck to him.
He liked traveling for the historical aspect, preferring to read the history and then fly over top instead of actually stopping. One thing he wasn’t terribly fond of was some of the food in foreign places. He really just wanted cheese on bread in some form or another. He’d happily have started the day with an egg and cheese sandwich, followed it with a cheese and veggie beef sandwich for lunch and bring the day to an end with some pizza. He was the only vegetarian meat and potatoes man. Dane remembers: “We were eating at an Indian restaurant in Chattanooga. Dad liked Indian food quite a bit, but still went for cheese options. The waiter took his order for a starter of cheese pakora, a spinach and cheese curry, and paneer naan, aka cheese bread. Mom asked him what he was having for dessert. Lynn immediately responded, ‘A coronary.’”
There’s far too much to say to get through it in several hours. These are some of our favorite moments. As we said, one of his favorite quotes was, ‘Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story’. This time, the facts are the good story.
There is so much more, so of which really couldn't be read in a church, but that will be in future.