October 21, 2021

Leland Baridon Taylor remembered as lawyer, community servant

Leland “Lee” Baridon Taylor built a resume as a lawyer and served on the boards of many of the most active and prestigious organizations — several for a half-century or more — in the greater Cortland area.

But people who knew Taylor, who died June 14, just short of his 100th birthday, said Monday that it was his quiet service to his adopted hometown that they will most remember.

Warren Eddy, who served as director of the Cortland Free Library from 1964 to 2002, after two years as assistant director, said Taylor was the only board member to serve throughout Eddy’s tenure leading the Church Street library.

“He cared for the community,” Eddy said. “He gave many things and he was very quiet about it.”

Taylor negotiated the purchase of an apartment building just north of the library that was torn down to create a parking lot and was critical to expanding the library’s converge area to include Cortlandville, Eddy said.

Taylor also traveled with Eddy and another board member to Albany twice more than a decade ago to lobby for better terms for the Cortland library to join the Finger Lakes Library System, Eddy said.

Taylor also hosted in his own home several candidates to succeed Eddy. The children’s room and elevator added in a renovation completed in 2011 were named for Taylor, who served as a library trustee for 55 years, several as board president.

“As a board member and as a leader, he was outstanding,” Eddy said. “He was one of the best persons I have met in the city of Cortland.”

Diane Ames, a past library board president and current board member, said she joined the board at Taylor’s insistence. They were friends for nearly 45 years and were long-time neighbors and members of the Presbyterian Church in Cortland.

“Lee was just a marvelous leader,” she said. “He was always looking for ways to improve the library. He gave us good advice on investments. … He was down to earth, he was honest, he was sensible, he was always prepared, he was kind, he was community minded.”

A long-time lawyer, Taylor was also active in the Cortland Rotary, the First Presbyterian Church and served on the board of directors of the First National Bank of Dryden for 50 years, 18 of them as chairman.

He was a city judge from 1952 to 1957. He also served on the Syracuse University Athletic Board, the AAA Board and once served as vice president of the New York State Bar Association.

Taylor, who was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, and his wife, Rosemary, moved to Cortland in 1948 after Taylor received his law degree at Syracuse University, where he was the manager of the football team and a Syracuse Letterman of Distinction. The firm of Fitzgerald & Taylor, located on Tompkins Street, is now Pomeroy, Armstrong, Cassullo and Monty.

“He was probably, other than my own father, a father figure to me,” said Bill Pomeroy, who joined the firm in 1971 and became an associate in 1972. “He was an incredible guy, a great sense of humor. He has a great family … I never heard anyone speak badly of Lee Taylor.”

Taylor left the firm in 2010 after 62 years.

Ronald Denniston, chairman of the board, president and CEO of First National Bank of Dryden, said he met Taylor more than 50 years ago when Taylor was on the board and Denniston had recently started as an assistant cashier.

Taylor was as nice to him as an assistant cashier as he was when Denniston advanced to lead the company, he said.

“He was a mentor to me. He gave me a lot of knowledge about the banking business,” Denniston said. “He was a class act. I never knew a finer man. Lee was extremely honest, fair with everybody.”

“He was a classy guy, always level headed, well mannered,” said James Nunciato, who served in the Cortland Rotary Club with Taylor for more than 30 years and was Taylor’s investment adviser.

Taylor was the oldest living member of the club and had donated thousands of dollars to organizations and efforts the club funds, such as polio research, Nunciato said.

“He was a mild-mannered guy,” Nunciato said. “He liked to laugh a lot. He was a happy guy.”

Nunciato said Taylor was proud of his military service, but did not like to talk about his combat experiences.

“He was very, very sheltered about that,” Nunciato said.“There were a lot of people who were in the war who would not want to talk about it.”

Taylor joined the U.S. Navy after graduating from Syracuse University in 1942, serving in the Pacific Ocean on the USS Remey, which participated in some of the fiercest fighting of the war. Taylor was a season ticket holder for SU basketball and football for years, Nunciato said.

Taylor is survived by his wife of 75 years, Rosemary, their children, Barry (Libby), Craig (Anne), Mark (Robin), and Meg (Jim) Casey. A memorial service will be later in Cortland.

After a serious heart attack in 1978, Taylor dedicated himself to improving his health, Pomeroy said.

“He completely changed everything he did,” Pomeroy said. ”He walked and took tremendous care of himself … He lived to be 99.”