Ask McGehee: I read that plans call for the demolition of the R. V. Taylor Plaza complex on Michigan Avenue. Who was R. V. Taylor?

He was general manager of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, a member of the Interstate Commerce Commissioner, a three-term city commissioner and mayor of Mobile.

R.V. Taylor headshot

Among his many roles and accomplishments throughout his life, Richard Vipon Taylor served as mayor of Mobile for three terms between 1922 and 1937. Image courtesy Ray Isbell

Richard Vipon Taylor, known as Dick to his friends, was many things. He was general manager of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, a member of the Interstate Commerce Commissioner, a three-term city commissioner and mayor of Mobile. All of these accomplishments came after he started his career performing manual labor in a turpentine still in Chunchula.

In 1859, Taylor was born in New Bern, North Carolina, where his father, Richard Nixon Taylor, operated a cotton mill. The Taylors moved to Mobile to be near his sister, and R. N. Taylor went into the turpentine and lumber business with his brother-in-law.

A Self-Made Man

At the age of 18, Dick Taylor left the turpentine business and went to work for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad as a junior clerk in the accounting department. He would later recall that Colonel Alfred Rives, the railroad’s vice president and general manager, took a liking to him. 

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In 1882, the 23-year-old Taylor married Helen Buck. It was a happy marriage that would last nearly 60 years and produce four children. One of his famous quotes said with a smile was, “I am afraid of no man and only one woman.”

At the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, he learned the roles of each member of the office force and over time, became an expert in every area of the operation. After filling several positions, he became the railroad’s general auditor. In 1904, he was named general manager and ultimately was promoted to vice president and general manager in 1911.

Under Taylor’s guidance, the railroad constructed specialized piers on the riverfront. One was specially equipped to unload bananas while another was built to handle cotton shipments. 

A Presidential Visit

Given the importance of the railroad and his position there, it was not surprising that Taylor was chairman of the entertainment committee when President Woodrow Wilson visited Mobile in October of 1913. 

He later recalled riding up Government Street beside Wilson, who, impressed by the historic architecture, told his host, “Never permit, if possible, the destruction of the old-time residences which give such a distinctive character to this boulevard, especially the iron verandas.” In recalling that ride later in life, Dick Taylor said, “I remember this remark with some pain as I see these old homes, one by one, pass out of existence to make way for more modern structures.”

With the death of city commissioner Patrick J. Lyons in 1921, Dick Taylor entered politics when he was selected by the remaining commissioners to fill his slot.

A Popular Politician

In that era, the commissioners rotated the position of mayor. Taylor promoted the expansion of the State Docks, the construction of the Causeway and plans for Dauphin Island.

During one of his terms, he recalled the commissioners being approached by a group demanding a pay raise for members of the city’s police and fire departments. He told the group “I thoroughly agree with you, but the city has no additional income to meet the increase. I suggest you start a movement to increase taxes to provide the needed funds.” They responded: “Oh, we can’t do that! That would not be popular!”

In 1926, Taylor resigned as a city commissioner and was sworn in as an Interstate Commerce commissioner in Washington. He served in that capacity until 1929 when he returned to Mobile and the city commission.

In 1937, while Taylor was again serving as mayor, the Mobile Housing Board was organized. The city and the nation were in the midst of the Great Depression, and the board was formed to provide federally funded housing for the city’s low-income residents.

Dick Taylor died in 1939 at the age of 80, and R. V. Taylor Plaza was ultimately named to honor one of our city’s most popular politicians. With its planned demolition as the Housing Choice Voucher Program makes such complexes obsolete, it would be hoped that Mayor Taylor will be honored in another way.

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