July 20, 2011

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Donald Taylor, WPI Class of 1949 and a longtime trustee, died July 17, 2011, at his home in North Hampton, N.H. He was 84.

"Don Taylor was a loyal and generous alumnus and trustee, admired by his many friends and colleagues for his courteous and caring ways, no less than for his leadership and highly effective service," said WPI President Dennis Berkey. "He and Ruth co-chaired the Alden Society in recent years, bringing inspiration and gratitude to many members of the WPI family. He will be warmly remembered."

Growing up in Uxbridge, Mass., Taylor enjoyed spending time in the textile mills where his father was a superintendent. "I had a real interest in the machinery," he told Quest, a WPI newsletter, in 1993. "I loved to watch the maintenance men when they came in on Saturdays to do repairs."

In 1944 he enrolled at WPI ("the only college I ever considered attending," he once said), but left after three semesters to join the Navy. He was called to active duty as World War II was ending, and was released a year later. He then returned to WPI and finished his bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering under the GI Bill. (He later graduated from the Advanced Management Program at Harvard and became a registered professional engineer.)

He worked as a salesman and the clerk of the works on a Veterans Housing Authority project before being recalled to active service during the Korean War. After graduating from Officer Candidate School, he worked at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where he was quickly promoted to lead officer on the construction of a new submarine.

Taylor retired from the Navy in 1954 and returned to Worcester to join the ATO Inc. subsidiary of the George J. Meyer Manufacturing Co., a firm based in Milwaukee. At ATO, he was given the opportunity to use an early computer to develop a production control system, a project that attracted international attention. "We had one of IBM's first five random-access computer devices," he recalled years later.

Given the chance to become Meyer's general manager, Taylor relocated to Milwaukee in 1964. In 1968, when Meyer was acquired by another company, Taylor joined Nordberg Co. in Milwaukee, a maker of diesel engines and mining equipment, as executive vice president. A decade later, Nordberg was acquired by Rexnord Corp., where Taylor ultimately rose to become chairman and CEO. He retired in 1987 after the company was sold to Banner industries.

In retirement, Taylor served as managing director of Anatar Investments Ltd. and also pursued a second career in executive recruitment. As a partner in Sullivan Associates, he helped recruit corporate directors, work that acquainted him with the changing landscape of corporate governance. "For large public companies, at least," he told Quest in 1997, "the days of filling board seats by the old-boy network have pretty much faded away. Our clients are looking for truly independent directors from nontraditional sources."

Taylor also found time in retirement to pursue his love of music—an interest he shared with his wife, Ruth, who enjoyed a career as a professional singer. A saxophonist with WPI's Boyntonians orchestra and conductor of the marching band, Don first met Ruth while an undergraduate when he accepted an invitation to sing in a local church choir. In Milwaukee, Ruth was on the Opera Board, while Don was a trustee of the Milwaukee Conservatory and as a director and vice president of the Milwaukee Symphony.

At WPI, Taylor joined the Board of Trustees in 1987 and was elected a trustee emeritus in 2000. He also served on the Mechanical Engineering Department Advisory Board. In 1991, the Taylors established the Donald and Ruth Taylor Scholarship Fund at WPI. The Taylor Room in the Campus Center recognizes the couple's support for that building. Their lifetime giving earned them membership in WPI's Presidential Founders and charter membership in the new 1865 Society, which honors those whose lifetime giving equals or exceeds $1 million. The Taylors were also charter members of the Alden Society, which recognizes those who've made planned gifts to WPI; they chaired the society until recently.

The university twice honored Donald Taylor for his lifetime achievements: in 1976 with the Robert H. Goddard '08 Alumni Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement, and in 1980 with an honorary doctorate in engineering.

Donald Taylor is survived by his wife, Ruth, a daughter and three sons, and nine grandchildren. Memorial contributions may be made to the Donald and Ruth Taylor Scholarship Fund at WPI (100 Institute Road, Worcester, MA 01609); Worcester Academy (81 Providence Street, Worcester, MA 01604); or North Hampton United Church of Christ (295 Atlantic Avenue, North Hampton, NH 03862).