From left, Crystal Taylor and Bruce Taylor get turkeys ready with a Taylor cousin, Karen Redd. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

By KATE ALBRIGHT AND LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

Montclair is where Bruce Taylor Jr. grew up. It’s where his father and namesake developed a reputation as one of Montclair High School’s athletic greats, and as a cherished community member who gave of himself whenever he could. It’s where Bruce Taylor Jr. saw his father hand out dinners at the community center in Glenfield Park for years.

And that’s why, Bruce Taylor Jr. said, when he and wife Crystal Taylor decided they wanted to help others in his father’s memory this holiday season, they kept things local.

The Taylors brought 100 frozen turkeys to the Wally Choice Community Center Saturday, Nov. 13, with a no-strings-attached offer — anyone who wanted a turkey got one while supplies lasted.

Joining them were friends and family members — many taking the time to reflect on the life of Bruce Taylor Sr., who died in May of last year at the age of 72.

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“Basically, this is something my wife and I thought about — doing something for the community, especially when everyone needs something right now,” Bruce Taylor Jr. said. It was a chance to help others while honoring his father’s name and legacy, and the town that has meant so much to their family. 

Because Bruce Taylor Sr. died during the early days of the pandemic, family members weren’t able to gather together to mourn him. They held a funeral by Zoom last year.

“He was so well-loved,” Crystal Taylor said. “Bruce Taylor Sr. was so loved by his community, by everybody. And so it was really hard not to be able to come together in fellowship and share memories.”

The family used to call Bruce Taylor Sr. “the mayor of Montclair,” she said, “because everybody knew him.” He was always serving others, taking care of people, feeding them, she said. 

Willie Rollins Jr., who lives across the street from Glenfield Park, didn’t know a turkey giveaway was happening until he was out walking his dog. He was excited by the discovery, and brought a turkey home. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

“I get emotional thinking about it, but God has been so good and gracious to us [through the pandemic]. And so how do we not share that with people?” Crystal Taylor said. “And so many people are hurting right now. So many people are isolated. And people don’t have a loving family. You see how many people love Brucey and love each other? If we can share that with others, I mean, that’s our pleasure to serve.”

Bruce Taylor Sr.’s older sister, Arlene Taylor, remembered her brother as a humanitarian, someone who “liked to do things for people.” When she became a single parent, he was there with anything she needed, she said. Doris Taylor called herself the baby sister of their family; Bruce Taylor Sr. had been her last living brother.

“He thought he was a gourmet cook” she said, bringing about a laugh. The cooking was good, though, Doris Taylor said —  she and her brother liked to outdo one another in the kitchen.

Plenty of people in Montclair got a taste of Bruce Taylor Sr.’s culinary talents. Friend Peggy Bowman remembered he used to serve lots of people from the neighborhood at backyard barbecues. He’d been the head chef for monthly men’s breakfasts at the Glenfield parkhouse, his obituary says

At MHS in 1965, Bruce Taylor Sr. had been on the school’s first lacrosse team, as well as on the wrestling team. It’s his time as a football player many remember — named an Outstanding All-County Lineman on the undefeated 1964 state championship team. After high school, he attended Alabama State University on a full football scholarship. He later declined an offer to try out for the Atlanta Falcons. 

​​Connie Barton, a friend of the Taylor family for more than 50 years, met Bruce Taylor Sr. just after he graduated MHS. She said through the years of knowing him, his personality was always the same — kindhearted and giving, always ready with a smile.

Childhood friend Pierre Falaise, left, reminisces about chasing around little Bruce Taylor Jr. right. He was one of several longtime friends and family members who joined the Taylors’ turkey giveaway. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)

“If you were down and low, he lifted me up,” she said. “He lifted everyone up.”  

He’d been a regular at the Do Drop Inn, a gathering of seniors at the Wally Choice Center. Whenever he walked in, “everybody stopped, eyes on the door, eyes directed at the door, waiting for him to start,” Barton said. “Because when he made his entrance, he made it big and everybody was happy. Everybody laughed. It was never a dull moment. And he was always so willing to help everyone. Everyone.”

Everyone laughed when he walked up, she said.

“No matter how sad and down you were, he’d make everybody glow. … And it came from the heart,” Barton said.

Willie Rollins Jr. lives across the street from the park. He hadn’t known about the turkey giveaway until he was out walking with his two dogs and saw it happening.

“I’m very excited right now,” Rollins said. “I still don’t believe it. I got a turkey. I’m good. You know, I was just talking about Thanksgiving with my sister yesterday, and [now] a turkey just appeared.”

Crystal Taylor and Bruce Taylor Jr. prepare to give away 100 turkeys in Glenfield Park Saturday, Nov. 13, in memory of Bruce Taylor Sr., who died last year. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Bruce Taylor distributes turkeys at the Taylor Turkey Giveaway. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Shelley Cannon helps deliver turkeys at the Taylor Turkey Giveaway on Nov. 13. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Turkeys are ready to go on Nov. 13, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
There were plenty of turkeys at the Taylors’ giveaway — and plenty of people interested in the,. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)
Taylor family members and friends, from left, Crystal Taylor, Bruce Taylor Jr., Doris Taylor, Arlene Taylor, Karen Redd, Sheley Cannon, Barbara Cheek and Peggy Bowman at the Taylor Turkey Giveaway on Nov. 13, 2021. (KATE ALBRIGHT / FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL)