EGREMONT – The Eagle received a curious letter in the mail last week, addressed to the editor and written by Reginald Taylor, who wanted to inform his dear friends in the Berkshires of his death.
In a typed cover letter that is undated, Taylor writes: “[I] I still have a number of friends in the Berkshires who won’t know I’m dead unless they read the news in your newspaper.
The obituary he included was short – shorter than the summary on the back of a softcover mystery book. What he wrote would have been a page turner, only it barely covered half a page.
We’ve looked at it all, and it’s true: Reginald Taylor, who had a number of friends in the Berkshires, has died in New York City. He was 92 years old.
In all caps, he ended his obituary with an astonishing paragraph that prompted us to search for the late Reginald Taylor.
He notes that his funeral and internment will take place in the village of Christchurch, Cambridgeshire, in the south-east of England, then concludes: “In death the English go back to their roots. The English return home, they search for their ancestral arpent and are buried in the earth on which their ancestors walked.
The return address on the envelope mentioned an apartment at 123 Waverly Place, a narrow street in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood. We contacted a woman he identified as the person who was putting an end to his earthly affairs. Her name is Vlasta Goddard.
Turns out she lives across the street from what used to be Taylor’s apartment. She told The Eagle that she often goes to see Taylor. On October 12, she discovered her body in her apartment.
“Yes, I have known Mr. Reggie, for many years,” said Goddard, from Prague, Czech Republic. “He was so nice and, you know, always well dressed and well behaved and charitable.”
It was Goddard who followed up on Taylor’s request for his obituary. He gave her the stamped and sealed envelope addressed to The Eagle about two years ago, she said.
“I didn’t even know what was in it,” she said.
Goddard then put us in touch with a woman from Lenox who Taylor had also asked to report about her death. Her name is Georgeanne Rousseau. And, therefore, between Rousseau; another good friend, Marilyn Stevens, of Great Barrington; the brief obituary provided by Taylor; and a man in England who was preparing this week to receive Taylor’s mortal remains, here’s more about the mysterious man who wrote his own modest obituary.
He was blond and handsome, and he was about 5 feet 5 inches tall. He was funny. It could be caustic. He enjoyed gardening, singing, and being English among Americans.
And her partner of many years was killed by a roadside in Berkshire.
Reginald Taylor was born an only child to a well-to-do family in Cambridgeshire 92 years ago. He liked to tell people that his birthday, May 29, is also known as Royal Oak Day, an ancient holiday commemorating the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660.
He grew up on a farm that had been in the family for a few hundred years. Her grandmother was a good friend of Dorothy Sayers, author of the mystery and short story series Lord Peter Wimsey.
Although his strong-minded mother was not thrilled, Taylor wanted to be a singer and later trained at the Royal College of Music in London. A career as a singer would never have transpired, although he would sing in unison and spontaneously for the rest of his life.
Friends say they believe Taylor lived in Italy and the Netherlands for a while before moving to New York City, where he shared this Greenwich Village apartment with his partner, Stanley Tanenbaum. In New York, Taylor is said to work as a paid babysitter with older women. He didn’t do it for the money; he apparently had money. Rather, he did it because he was a social creature and didn’t like lonely people being left alone.
He and Tanenbaum bought a house in South Egremont over 40 years ago. The house was old and charming and was on the bank of the creek behind the Old Mill restaurant. Taylor would live full time in South Egremont. Tanenbaum came on weekends.
“They loved it there,” said Rousseau, who, along with her husband, Jean, has become close friends with Taylor through their mutual ties to the Berkshire Botanic Garden.
One weekend, Tanenbaum, an avid biker, was accidentally hit and killed by an automobile while cycling on Route 71 in Egremont. According to online archives, this was in 1999.
“Reggie and Stanley would be having dinner parties,” Stevens said. “Reggie cooked fine food. He liked to plant trees, and he had to get Stanley’s permission, and they would fight for it. They were great. “
At the Berkshire Botanical Garden, Taylor led the fundraising for the sale of used furniture for 40 years, Rousseau said. And he sang wherever he could, including as a member of the Stockbridge Festival Chorus.
Stevens first met Taylor in the choir of the First Congregational Church in Great Barrington.
“He was a tenor. I was a soprano, ”she said. “He laughed at me because some music makes me cry. ‘Why are you crying?’ he would tease me.
According to real estate records, Taylor sold the South Egremont home in 2007. Friends said he returned full-time to New York City, where he had many interests, including volunteering at Jefferson Market Garden. He would continue to visit the Berkshires, including, for the last time, last July, and friends of the Berkshires would continue to visit him.
Stevens said that not long ago Taylor told him he was living in physical pain and was ready to die.
Rousseau and her husband, Jean, had lunch with Taylor in New York City just days before his death.
“He was kind, amiable, deeply cultured in the performing arts, a worthy man who lived a life worth it,” Rousseau said. “The mention of his name always brings a smile to a face, for he was such a character. “
In England, a man named James Hughes, vice-chairman of the Christchurch Parish Council, said he was unable to find anyone in the small village of 800 souls who knew Taylor or members of his family. Still, the village prepares to receive Taylor’s remains.
He will hold a funeral service by the Old Croft River, in a stone church that Hughes describes as “quite a small affair.”
On his ancestral acre, Reginald Taylor will be welcomed into his home.