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They were raised in farm country and not wealthy. Both men traced their ancestors far back, one to a conquistador traveling our valley in 1598, the other to a young Brit who immigrated in 1635.
One served four years in the Navy during World War II, the other graduated from the Naval Academy right after the war.
Each was a partner in a loving, lifelong marriage that could be an example to all of us. (Death ended one after 63 years and will soon end the other after 76.)
They were deeply religious (one Catholic, one Southern Baptist, until the Baptists ceased letting women be pastors.) Both were gentle, courteous, and thoughtful, yet could be firm when appropriate.
As boys, both saw ethnic prejudices up close.
One was Hispanic/Anglo. When he and his wife moved out to an old house in Mesilla (not yet so fancy), visitors from his professional life said, “You can’t raise your kids in this sort of place.” He replied, “I was born in this sort of place.” The other, a white southern boy, lived in a village populated mostly by “coloreds.” His staunchly segregationist father let him befriend Black farmhands’ kids. Both grew to oppose racism passionately.
Both continued to serve the public into their 90s. When one retired from teaching, he got talked into running for our state legislature and served 20 years, known as “the Conscience of the Legislature.” For the rest of his life, he actively supported progressive ideas and inspired and mentored younger candidates. The other, after politics, won a Nobel Prize and was fostering peace and hammering nails with Habitat for Humanity for decades.
J. Paul Taylor was a beloved friend, with a great sense of humor. He repeatedly amazed me. Meeting scores of people, he not only knew everyone’s name but asked after each person’s parents, siblings, or dog. Listening to him talk about the legislature with a mutual friend who’d known him back then, I wondered if he ever forgot anything.
I never met Jimmy Carter. Wikipedia notes that “As a dark horse candidate not well known outside of Georgia, Carter won the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination.” As a young reporter in Las Cruces in 1975, I suddenly noticed all these middle-class folks from Georgia walking our streets, visiting with people. They said that soon we’d be hearing about their wonderful friend and neighbor Jimmy Carter, ‘cause he’d be running for President. They were sincere and persuasive, but no one felt real sure they were sane.
The first time candidate Taylor canvassed in Mesilla, he emerged from the first house at the same time a supporter finished a whole block. One year, a constituent’s dog bit him. Days later, someone asked if he’d confirmed with the owner that the dog had been vaccinated against rabies. He said he hadn’t, because asking would make the owner feel so terrible about the bite. He just looked over the fence every so often to make sure the dog was acting normally.
Both fought for justice early, without waiting ‘til it was fashionable. J. Paul did much to lessen inequality here; and Carter’s early antiracism positions were startling in a southern politician. (Right before and right after Carter, Georgia’s governors were virulent racists.
These were special people. One died this month at 102. The other, 98, is receiving hospice care at home. Each enriched our world considerably.
Las Cruces resident Peter Goodman writes, shoots pictures, and occasionally practices law. His blog at http://soledadcanyon.blogspot.com/ contains further information on this column.
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This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: J. Paul and Jimmy