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Allan Taylor
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Panayoti Kelaidis | Dec 17, 2022
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Plant Focus

Quercus macdougallii
A rare oak endemic to the Sierra Juárez in Oaxaca

In Memoriam: Allan Taylor (1931–2022)

Allan Taylor
Allan during the  2012 IOS Pre-Conference Tour in France ©  Alana McKean

Allan R. Taylor will be known to many members of the International Oak Society as Editor of the newsletter Oak News & Notes (2009–12) and participant in many IOS Tours around the world. Unlike many of us, he was not a horticulturist by training. Allan was a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Colorado Boulder for nearly four decades (a department he helped create). He was chairman of that department for much of his tenure, as well as of the French Department at C.U. Allan was an accomplished polyglot with fluency in many European languages (Russian, Greek, Spanish, German, and French first off) but with competence in most of the rest, not to mention Chinese and Japanese. He was a world authority on many American Indian Languages including Blackfeet, Gros Ventre, and Sioux (he co-wrote a textbook for Lakhota, a Siouan language).

Allan’s extraordinary professional achievement and his lifelong obsession with horticulture do not really capture him accurately—he was rapt with all facets of human history and culture (with the glaring exception of popular culture which he loathed). He obtained an advanced degree in Anthropology when he retired from teaching. He was a polymath, a dilettante in the best sense, and devoted friend and family man: how many grandfathers have had their seven grandchildren flying to spend time with him in his last weeks from all corners of the country and the world, not to mention five children, one of whom was always at home with him for months in his decline?

He married my older sister when I was 8 years old, but for several years before that my whole family was smitten by this tall Anglo with ebullient spirit and passionate style. He shamed me into relearning my first language (Modern Greek) by seemingly mastering it overnight when he met my sister and in the short time he lived at our house he became the greatest mentor in my life—fostering my lifelong love of East Asian languages and culture (I studied Chinese for eight years as a consequence). I helped him build a rock garden at my parents’ home (recounted in my chapter of The Roots of My Obsession), which propelled me in my career of 43 years thus far, not to mention that I’m now President of the North American Rock Garden Society!

In the course of his long life, Allan had many pursuits and interests. Once he found the IOS, he seemed to find his true love—his participation and fellowship through this Society undoubtedly became his most treasured community. It seemed to me that his greatest regret towards the end of his life was that he would not now find the oaks he had yet to see in nature or gardens, and all those acorns he had yet to collect or plant.

When one passes in one’s sleep at the age of almost 91, without pain after months of thoughtful support of a loving family, one would suppose you could consider this a best-case scenario. I can report that Allan passed away thusly from the failure of a 10-year old porcine valve in his heart that gradually weakened and finally took him from us the morning of December 1. Why, then, do his family and friends mourn so deeply? Allan and I had an hour to ourselves the day before he passed: he asked me “Wouldn’t it be easier if my mind had failed before my body?” This is a question I couldn’t answer.

Allan lives on in his scholarly linguistic publications, in a bevy of ornamental plants he introduced to cultivation (Pinus contorta var. latifolia ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’ is grown worldwide, for instance, as are many of his oak selections) and in his nearly 20,000 snarky and hilarious posts on Quora, where you can practically hear him snort with delight!

Further reading

  • Ryan Russell’s profile of Allan, first published in Oak News & Notes in 2013
  • An obituary with further details of his professional and personal life
  • A Facebook group: For all of Allan Taylor’s Friends, where many of his friends have shared stories, photos, and memories of Allan—even recipes!
  • Books-in-law, a blog post by Panayoti Kelaidis about the books Allan gave him