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A True Wildcatter 

Awise man once told me that the measure of true wealth is not how much you have, but how much you give. By that measure and others, Louisiana lost one of its truly wealthy men when oilman and philanthropist Pat Taylor died recently at the age of 67.

Taylor moved in many circles and left an indelible mark in each. In the oil patch, he was among the world's leading independents, a true wildcatter who had a knack for finding and extracting oil and gas in places others overlooked. Life as an oilman has always been a roller-coaster ride, and Taylor saw his share of ups and downs. At the time of his death, Forbes magazine had identified him as Louisiana's only billionaire.

Rough-cut and plainspoken, Taylor was driven to the point of single-mindedness. Hardheaded? Absolutely. When he focused on an issue, he didn't let go until he got it where he wanted it. That attribute could drive some around him nuts, but it also made him one of the most cherished friends a person could have.

In particular, he was a champion of those who, like himself, started with nothing.

He will be remembered best for starting the Taylor Plan, a program that provides free college tuition for students who maintain good grades. Like a lot of things that Pat Taylor came to love, it began on a whim.

In 1988 he was invited to speak to students at Livingston Middle School in eastern New Orleans. He knew the drill. It would be a quick pep talk about staying in school and off drugs, working hard and amounting to something. He figured he would be in and out in 20 minutes.

But, as he looked at the faces of the young African-American students in the audience, something tugged at him. "How many of you are planning to go to college?" Taylor asked, seeking a show of hands. Not many hands responded. "How many of you would like to go to college?" A sea of hands shot up.

Impulsively, he made the students a promise: He would pay the college tuition for everyone who maintained a B average and stayed out of trouble.

The students were incredulous. Who was this rich white guy -- a Republican, no less -- and what was he up to? Word of Taylor's promise spread quickly, and he confirmed it many times over. He and his wife Phyllis, herself a tireless patron of the arts and other charities, were named Gambit Weekly's New Orleanians of the Year for 1988. It was the first time the award went to two persons -- and the only time it ever went to a husband and wife.

But the accolades that inevitably came Taylor's way paled in comparison to the knowledge that he had made a difference in the lives of generations to come. The Taylor Plan is now Louisiana's TOPS plan (Tuition Opportunity Program for Students). It is taxpayer financed, and states across the country have copied it to varying degrees -- usually after personal lobbying efforts by Taylor.

Above all, Taylor never lost his personal connection with the original Taylor Kids, one of whom I recently got to know professionally. He recalls with a laugh that every time he saw Taylor after graduating from college, Taylor would give him $100.

"I didn't need the money any more," he says. "Thanks to the education he helped me get, I've got a great job. But that's just how Mr. Taylor was. He always wanted to help us on an individual level. He always wanted to make sure we were doing OK." Thanks to Pat Taylor, kids all over Louisiana are doing OK.

click to enlarge Pat Taylor was a champion of those who, like himself, started with nothing. - PATRICK F. TAYLOR FOUNDATION
  • Patrick F. Taylor Foundation
  • Pat Taylor was a champion of those who, like himself, started with nothing.
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