October 19, 1941 – November 23, 2023
Robert Love Taylor, Jr. died in the early morning of Thursday, November 23, 2023, in hospice care at the Hock Family Pavilion, in Durham, North Carolina. He spent his final days surrounded by family members, including his two daughters, Jennifer and Julia Taylor; son-in-law, Sam Tannous; granddaughters, Sophie Taylor-Havens, Cecelia and Audrey Tannous-Taylor; sister and son-in-law, Carole and Tom Beer; and beloved wife of 61 years, Sue (Patterson) Taylor.
Robert (Bob) was born in Oklahoma City, on October 19, 1941, to Willie Merle Wiseman and Robert Love Taylor, Sr. He grew up in Oklahoma, but he was the great-great nephew of the first Robert Love Taylor, a three-term Tennessee governor as well as a fiddler. His mother’s family had roots in Tennessee and Arkansas, and Bob traced his ancestry back to the early 1800s, weaving his research into the Taylors of Tennessee into stories for his second novel, Fiddle and Bow.
Having delighted in a childhood career as an (Allstate) motorscooter rider, accordion player extraordinaire, baritone saxophonist, and beloved older brother, he graduated from Harding High in 1959. He then lit out to San Francisco to discover what he could in the early moments of the civil rights and counter-culture movements. His decision to return briefly to Oklahoma would turn out to be a life-altering decision. He and Sue Patterson met in the summer of 1962 and felt moved to marry in September after their summer courtship. They returned together, driving across the country in an old black Ford to San Francisco, where they began their long life of art, music, mountains, and family. Their first daughter was born in San Francisco in 1964, and their second would follow two years later, in Norman, Oklahoma, where Bob finished his bachelor’s in English.
After teaching high school in Milwaukee and Willows, California, Bob earned a Ph.D. in American literature from Ohio University in 1972. That summer, he moved the family to Lewisburg, PA, where he began a rewarding career as a tenured English professor at Bucknell University. Along with teaching, he co-founded and edited West Branch Literary Magazine for many years, and was the co-founder and co-director of the annual Bucknell Poetry Festival. The creative writing department flourished during his more than thirty-year tenure. His colleagues enjoyed his calm, capable leadership as chair for four years and his wise and kind mentorship of many new English Department faculty. His undergraduate and graduate students remember him for his humble generosity, for inspiring them and believing in them, and for his skill and rigor as he helped them discover their voices, one careful sentence at a time.
He will be remembered for brilliantly capturing the complexity of human nature in his fiction, the detailed beauty of the natural world in his photographs, and the music of the Appalachian mountains in his fiddling. Bob was an artist. His lilting, subtle southern accent is heard in the voices of his characters as he wove music into speech. He wrote his first stories and at least one novel on a heavy Royal typewriter, having handwritten them first. His stories have appeared in Best American Short Stories, O. Henry Awards, Pushcart Prize, New Stories from the South, and distinguished literary journals including The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Southwest Review, and Iowa Review. Published novels include Loving Belle Starr (linked stories), Fiddle and Bow, The Lost Sister, and Blind Singer Joe’s Blues. His book of linked stories, Lady of Spain, was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award in fiction and The Lost Sister won the award.
Aside from his family, writing, and teaching, his other great passion was fiddling. He and Sue dropped by the Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention in the 1960s en route to Blacksburg. He saw the old-time fiddlers onstage and it took his breath away. “I’ve got to do that,” he told himself. He claimed to have learned fiddle tunes first from Harry D’Addario, a custodian at Bucknell. Harry would finish up early one night a week and hold a jam session in a basement at the school at 2 a.m. Bob tried to learn the disciplined way from his daughters’ Suzuki violin lessons, but he’d shake his head and say they outpaced him early on. He played for years in a band called The Buffalo Creek Bogtrotters, and then Back Up and Push in Pennsylvania, and as he approached retirement, spent more and more time in Southwest Virginia, where he met local musicians in Blanche Nichols’ kitchen, at her Tuesday night jams. He was recruited to fiddle for the Grayson County River Rats, a band that praised him but always said, “faster, Bob. Just a little faster.” In 1999, Bob got together a pickup band for the Galax Fiddlers Convention and called it the Buck Mountain Band, for the spot where he and Sue had their Grayson cabin, but also as a nod to an earlier Buck Mountain Band. His band played dances and fiddlers’ conventions, and when the Blue Ridge Music Center opened on the Blue Ridge Parkway, became the “Monday” entertainment in the breezeway, playing music and educating visitors on music and cultural history. Bob continued this national park volunteer service with his band for 16 years, enjoying the give and take with audiences both local and from around the world. He “retired” in 2022, but came back for one last performance with the Buck Mountain Band in October 2023. The band recorded three CDs: Moon Behind the Hills, Chicken in the Snowbank, and Bull at the Wagon.
He had deep compassion and an understanding of the complexity of the human condition—a theme that resonates in his fiction but also in his interactions with his children, students, colleagues, and extended family. His commitment and focus on his many pursuits, his quiet introspection, and his ever-keen wit balanced with a sustained, generous involvement with the communities he joined, whether Harding High alumni, his fellow musicians, or the students he continued to help for many years after graduation. His zest for living and for connecting with others was understated, but deep.
After retirement, Bob and Sue settled in Independence, Virginia, and then Durham, where Bob took up photography with the same vigor as writing. He was seldom found without a camera hanging from his neck, and his collection of lenses took their place among his fiddles and books in his study. His friends and relatives benefitted from yet another hobby: knitting, which he took up to endure the ads during OU football games. Beautifully patterned socks and hats – and Bob often wore colorful sweaters of his own design.
He is survived by his wife, Sue; two younger sisters, Carole and Jan; his two daughters, Jennifer and Julia; four grandchildren, Sophie, Jack, Cecelia, and Audrey, nieces, Ann-Britt and Amy; nephew, John; and, of course, his loyal companion, dog Brody.
A memorial will be held at Bucknell University on April 25 and a celebration of his life will follow in Virginia in the summer.