Jan Taylor

My friend Jan died today. I think of him as a friend although I had not seen him in about a decade and I knew him best when I was a teenager and he was a minister in an Anglican church in Belfast. But he was a friend then, and I have never thought of him as anything else. I think I must have ended up hearing Jan preach on some kind of youth group outing. I really can’t remember. What I do remember is feeling totally out of place in the church. A feeling that I never grew out of. And I remember listening to him and thinking, wow, there is somebody that is a bit odd, like me, and yet feels totally comfortable with the weirdness and even appears to be celebrating it somewhat… photo 1 (7) I wrote him a letter. I always write people letters if they’ve said or done something that has been meaningful to me. It doesn’t matter if they’re very famous or not at all famous. I like feeling that they know how grateful I am. So I wrote to him- I’m pretty sure I looked him up in the phone book. And he wrote back. A wonderful, funny letter, including a poem he’d written about stepping in dog poo in the church. I was, of course, delighted. The official address stamp he used had an image of a square peg being hammered into a round hole. This was someone I wanted to know. Over the next few years I did get to know him. I met many friends though him who were very kind to me- all of them the sort who celebrated weirdness. Suddenly being an odd-looking kid who wrote terrible poetry and enjoyed silliness in a way that was deeply uncool with others, was acceptable and fun. Jan was an inclusive person and the little gang that he introduced me to was made up of people of many different ages and backgrounds and it took us to solemn places like church, where Jan would be the person to give me my first communion, and crazy places, like the Giant’s Ring where we once went in the middle of the night in pitch darkness to join with a huge gang of people who stood around the ancient tombstones to pray (sorry Mum- she is still freaked out by that story).

(I'm not sure who took this one. It was on St Dorothea's Facebook page)

(I’m not sure who took this one. It was on St Dorothea’s Facebook page)

photo (21) Jan taught me how to say ‘give us a snog’ in Romanian. He is the reason why I wear DM boots on a daily basis (he loved his DM’s so much that he staged a funeral for a beloved pair, and he persuaded my mum to let me have my first pair). He came to the house to introduce himself to my Mum and turned up on a motorbike dressed head to toe in black leather with a guy called Pete, also dressed in black. My mum nearly fainted- I think she thought it was the cops. He was possibly the first person to ever read my poetry and he was always positive about it, even though it was dreadful. He made toffee onions and gave one to his brother pretending it was a toffee apple. He played in a band and looked like one of the Village People (it was the 80’s). I have so many memories of this practical joker who was so clever and kind.

(That's Jan in the Kylie t-shirt)

(That’s Jan in the Kylie t-shirt)

The last time I saw Jan I was grown up. Β It was lovely to see him again and we asked each other how life had been. I had been to university and got married. He had been to Afghanistan as a padre with the RAF. ‘Wow!’ I said, ‘What was that like?’ ‘Brilliant!!’ he said, ‘I became a Muslim!’ That was just like him. You never quite knew if he was joking. But what was clear was that he had gone out there and met people and listened to them and enjoyed their difference to himself. He never struck me as a person who was afraid of things like that, and that is something really special in our wee country. I am so sorry he has gone, but I am so glad to have known him for that brief time years ago. I wish I had kept in touch, but I get the feeling that he would have been happy to call us friends too, even after all this time. I am thinking also of his family this evening, and what a great loss they have to face. I am sure that over the next few days they will meet many people whose lives were touched by Jan as mine was. I will certainly be holding them in my thoughts as I remember him. Te iubim, Jan! photo 3 (4)

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34 comments

  1. Shirley, this is lovely. Thank you for taking the time to write about your friend and sharing these reflections. I love how thoughtful and tender you are in those tough DM boots.

  2. I never knew Jan, had never even heard of him but what an impact he made on Shirley and how blessed they both are to have shared such a warm and loving friendship. What a beautiful, heartfelt tribute. πŸ™‚ Memories, especially memories of goodness and fun can be relived again and again and give encouragement to us all. Thanks for this, Shirley. As they say in Irish, ‘Ar dheis DΓ© go raibh a anam dilis’, Lord rest his gentle soul. (Mary Vallely, Armagh)

  3. Thanks for this; it’s brilliant and describes Jan perfectly. I’m one of Jan’s cousins and it’s really good to hear your experiences of him. I will never be able to think of Jan without a smile on my face.

  4. thank you Shirley-Anne for your lovely words and experiences.
    I’m Jan’s cousin, he was three years behind me in age, I’m Michael’s big brother. I can’t think of an occasion when the mention or thought of Jan doesn’t bring s smile to my face, you’ve described him perfectly. Thankfully we seem to be a strong family, and, supported by each other and by those who have known Jan, we will always have happy memories of this crazy lovely person.

    1. I too worked for and was touched by Jan and wish Heather and the boys to know how deeply he touched people’s lives bringing God to them with his querky combination of fun and sincerity. My love and prayers to you Heather, I hold the fondest memories of Odiham and Aldegrove, parties, celebrations, graces spoken and services enjoyed with you both. X

  5. Thanks for sharing your memories. This is a lovely tribute to Jan. It is comforting to know the impact he had on so many people.

  6. We have never met – but have through our love for Jan. I worked with Jan in the RAF (as a fellow chaplain) and we worked together for a few years. His funeral yesterday was, in his words, ‘brilliant’. Thank you for your blog – it resonated within me. Take care and God Bless.

    1. Thanks Glyn. I love the idea of Jan still bringing people together now. I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it to the funeral but it has been good to hear about it through mutual friends. Many good wishes to you. x

  7. I’ll add my thanks to you Shirley-Anne. I met Jan through the RAF, so at a different stage of his life to you, but what you wrote sums up the Jan I know perfectly. It was the same story at his funeral – we all knew the same man. That, for me, is a real tribute – to be unchanged whoever you are dealing with. His honesty defined him. If there was ever a balloonful of pomposity in your hand, Jan was there with a pin – and a grin, so no one could ever be upset. Not gone, as he’s touched so many of us and lives on through that, but just gone before.

  8. I went through school with Jan. He was a legend even then. I am deeply saddened by his passing and would wish to convey my condolences to the family but I have lost touch. Heather if you ever see this please know that you are in our thoughts.

  9. I left the RAF in 2008 and have only just heard of Jan’s passing. I am so sad to hear of his loss and more so that I missed his funeral, where I would have liked to have paid my respects. He and Heather were our next door neighbours at RAF Aldergrove in Northern Ireland where I served from 2000-2003 and where Jan served as the Station Padre. He was a brave and courageous man who loved to volunteer to serve overseas on operations where he could be in the action but also bring peace and God into the lives of those serving under very stressful situations. Jan was such a funny man and he always used to greet me with the words “hello neighbour” in his lovely Northern Irish twang. I bumped into Jan a few years later at a Reunion Dinner at RAF Benson and once again he greeted me with “hello neighbour” and it felt as though we were still serving together such was Jan’s endearing and warm personality. He was always messing around and you never quite knew what he was about to do next, but you knew it would be something completely off the wall in a very good and funny way! Not only did he like to act like a clown and cheer people up in the RAF, but I also remember that he was very keen to become a professional clown and work in a circus! He will be sadly missed by many and my thoughts and prayers go out to his lovely wife, Heather, his 2 sons Jan-Luke and Guy and all his family and friends. RIP Jan and may you bring as much fun and joy to those in heaven as you did to those of us here on earth!

    1. Thank you so much for your warm comment, Brian. It is so great to hear all these stories about Jan. Have you seen the pic of him on the unicycle? I must update the blog post and stick it on. I will pass this on to the family.

      1. Thank you Shirley-Anne. No, I haven’t seen the pic of him on the unicycle but would like to! Do please pass on my condolences to the family and say “hello neighbour” from Brian, Helen and family!

  10. Thanks all for lovely comments on brother Jan. I met Jan 29 years ago in his Family’s home in Belfast. I had visited the family from Kenya and was a guest of Guy Taylor- his other minister brother who died 25 years ago. Early today, here in Southern California,the Holy Spirit led me to seeking the Taylor Family on the internet and I was saddened to learn of Jan’s death back in February. My thoughts and prayers are with Mom Ellie, Heather, siblings as well as Jan’s Sons.I remember him as a kind, compassionate minister. James

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