As someone said on TV recently, "I don’t want to give an eulogy because that would be acknowledging that he is gone" – I have been trying to block out this reality for a little while now.
The last email I got from the man who I have often called my American dad was upbeat and full of energy – just like the very man whose office I had the good fortune of bursting into many many years ago. He mentioned as an aside that the cancer that he had beaten had come back but that he was supremely confident that he would beat it this time. About a month later, I got an email from his account mentioning that he passed away. Since that day I have been fighting away the sadness and trying hard to live up to the spirit of the man that inspired me to journey the road less traveled.
That day, many years ago, after I burst into the offices of the college Vice President – I had given vent to all my frustrations and my ambitions. I paced the room talking about my frustration at being unable to find enough time for research, and the paucity of student employment that hindered my ability to dream beyond. I talked about my journey from a small town in India to a small town in Kansas – and the temptation to give up. I talked and talked and through all of it this ram rod straight professor administrator sat behind his desk listening to me aptly and nodding to what I had to say. It was only when his office admin caught my eye from the outside that I realized where I was and who I was talking to. I skidded to a complete stop – unable to say anything further and expecting to be shellacked for being disrespectful. You see – I have grown up hearing "Guru Devo Bhava", equating your teacher to God, in a society where teachers have tremendous authority.
I learnt my first lesson from him that day – as he calmly put into motion actions to create a new role within his office reporting to him and opening up avenues for me to engage in what little research activity that happened at small midwestern university. I learnt that day that action is the most eloquent of languages.
People were the reason why I could comfortably call Kansas my home, and Dr. Taylor was at the very top of that list. He inspired, advised and helped all he could and eventually encouraged me to make the move to Caltech. Along with a few others, he helped shape my future into something everyone would be proud of. He taught me how to start on the path to being a good strategist and it is to him that I owe much of my success as an approachable technologist. At the same time, I was very glad to play my part in his life – be it as the messenger boy in his budding romance or subsequently as a staunch supporter of mom Maria’s push to get him back to better health.
Even after I went to the west coast and they moved to Portugal – he and mom always wrote to me, emails full of wit and wisdom and warm benevolence. When will you start your next company he asked – he wanted to invest in it. I had another home in Portugal they said, and a family that awaited my visit. Never did I imagine that I would not be greeted at the airport by my American dad when I finally visited. I will still go, because I want to see the land that he fell in love with and the lady that together with him nourished a young me with infinite care and amazing cooking.
Dad, I will miss you. No eulogies will suffice – you will live on in the lives of people that you have touched and inspired, continuing to teach and guide through your memory.
Dr. James S. Taylor (1947-2007)