Dr. Robert Ed Taylor, Chaplain for 35 Years, Retires

Contact: Lynn Stewart, Centenary News Service
318-869-5120 or 869-5709 E-mail: lstewart@beta.centenary.edu

SHREVEPORT, LA -- When 6-year-old Robert Ed Taylor sat on the porch of his grandparents' boarding house inShreveport in 1937, he was unaware that his future was across the street on the hilly and wooded campus of Centenary College.<

He had no way of knowing that the porch where he sat would become the entry to today's Turner Art Center, or that he would one day leave his home in West Monroe to earn a B.A. degree from Centenary in 1952.

As he became a Gent and studied in the Centenary of the late 1940s and early 1950s, he might have been surprised to learn that he would be teaching there himself in less than a decade and that he would spend the majority of his professional life at Centenary.

This May, Dr. Taylor retired after completing 35 years of service as both chaplain and a member of the religion faculty. He was recognized during Commencement as the longest-serving chaplain in the college's 171-year history.

Commencement 96 was the last official event in a career that included several administrative assignments over the years at Centenary. "But I have been chaplain through every job I have held on campus . . . I was always chaplain and always taught at least one course," Dr. Taylor recalled during an interview in his Smith Building office.

Those assignments, completed through the tenures of five college presidents, included serving as acting dean of the college, director of church relations, director of the Church Careers Program, assistant to the president, chairman of the Department of Religion and T.L. James Professor of Religion.

When he first came to Centenary, Dr. Taylor said, "The students were a little bit more formal. Then in the late sixties there was the revolt against tradition, although it was not as pronounced at Centenary as it was elsewhere." Required chapel was eliminated, with Dr. Taylor's recommendation, in 1971.

Next came the 1970s era of Vietnam War protests and related dilemmas concerning grades for young men. "They knew if they didn't make the grade, they would be gone to Vietnam," Dr. Taylor said.

There followed the antics of "streakers," nude students who would run from one point on campus to another; of pie bombers (Dr. Taylor caught his at a Founders' Day picnic in Crumley Gardens); and numerous other trends of the times.

Still, the Centenary student and the Centenary mission remained constant, he notes. "I guess there is a certain amount of consistency, a certain amount of energy and enthusiasm that still carries through," Dr. Taylor said. "I suspect that many students today are more intellectually searching . . . We've had some very sharp students. Centenary can be very proud of its student body."

The most exciting thing for Dr. Taylor has been "to see this emotional and intellectual growth take place in these students as they mature. It has been an energy-giver for me."

Dr. Taylor was quoted in a local news article as saying that he leaves Centenary encouraged that more students today are showing interest in helping others. "The students I work with see service as a vital component of their education. And I don't know how we could measure this, but in terms of students seeking spiritual depth in their lives, I definitely think that's increased."

Important to him, also, has been his connection with the Centenary faculty. "I certainly would want to pay tribute to my fellow faculty and colleagues over the years. I had a close friendship and appreciation for Webb Pomeroy -- we worked side by side together for many years. I treasured the faculty colleagues and am very excited about the sharp new faculty who are coming in.

"As I look back over the 35 years, I'm very enthusiastic about Centenary future in terms of its faculty."

The Centenary community has chosen to honor Dr. Taylor in several ways through the years. In 1976, he was the Centenary professor chosen by students and faculty to receive the Outstanding Teacher Award, the highest teaching award at the college. He was also named a faculty Pacesetter in 1971, 1973 and 1992; was recognized by the Alumni Association with its Distinguished Service Award in 1985 and was named an Honorary Maroon Jacket in 1989. In 1990 he succeeded the late Dr. Webb Pomeroy as the T. L. James Professor of Religion, assuming the college's second oldest endowed chair.

For his outstanding record, Dr. Taylor has also been listed in Who's Who in the United Methodist Church and Who's Who in Education.

Prior to and in addition to his service at Centenary, Dr. Taylor has served as pastor of Longstreet United Methodist Church (1973-87) and First Methodist Church of Zachary (1957-61) and as associate pastor of First Methodist Church of Baton Rouge (1955-57).

His civic activities and memberships have include the Open Ear Board of Directors, Rotary Club, East Ridge Country Club, Northwest Mental Health Association and Tau Kappa Epsilon, and he has traveled to Israel, Egypt and Alaska.

He is married to Norma Sue Shackelford, who recently retired from the public school system, and they are the parents of Marshall Taylor, a New York advertising executive, and Lobby Taylor Burkhalter, a Shreveport fitness instructor.

From a chaplaincy perspective, Dr. Taylor said that he has been greatly impressed by how both faculty and staff minister' to students in so many different ways. "They're concerned and they care. That is what I think a church-related college ought to be," he said.

"We've started popularizing the term the Centenary family' and I think that is a realistic term because so many of us have found here the kind of relationships that are found in a close-knit family."

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