Those who knew Todd Taylor told stories for hours, filling the auditorium with sustained laughter and soft sobs but, when it was over, nothing seemed to match the hard silence of more than 300 people watching the casket wheeled off the stage.
“I don’t think the reality has sunk in yet,” his brother, Lamarr Taylor, said. “It might hit us later.”
The 42-year-old had just finished speaking at a memorial service held at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center Monday afternoon for his brother, who died last week in his sleep at the home he shared with his parents in Bountiful.
He was 46.
His death shook the Utah State Democratic Party to its core — a testament to the institutional knowledge Taylor carried with him as the nation’s longest-serving Democratic Party executive director.
Wayne Holland, former Democratic State Party chairman, told the crowd what is already being chiseled in state political lore — that Taylor was born in the building that would eventually become the Utah Democratic Party headquarters.
But Holland also tried to quantify the loss for the party.
“The towering piles of paper on his desk showed it,” Holland said. “Yet he could somehow put his hands on any piece of information he needed within 15 seconds.”
Taylor began his political career by helping J. Dell Holbrook get elected to the Davis County Commission in the late ’80s. It was the first time a Democrat had held that position in decades.
Holbrook regaled the mourners with tales, drawing on the wide breadth of Taylor’s political savvy, friendship and even his background as a chiropractor.
In one instance, Holbrook told how Taylor orchestrated a media buy for his candidacy, doing multiple takes for an endorsement ad with former Attorney General Paul Van Dam, the late Salt Lake County Sheriff Pete Hayward and Gov. Calvin Rampton.
“That’s wonderful news,” Holbrook recalled upon hearing what Taylor had pulled together. “What am I going to say?”
Taylor’s response: “You’re not going to say a damn thing.”
Holbrook also recalled how Taylor helped him with a disjointed rib — instructing him to take a hot bath and drink three shots of whiskey before he arrived at the house. When Holbrook protested, saying he was a good, observant Mormon, Taylor wasn’t fooled.
“He said, ‘Get under the sink. You know damn well you’ve got a bottle,’ ” Holbrook recalled. When Taylor arrived, he had him lie on his back.
“Before I knew it, he had moved my knee and jerked my elbow,” Holbrook said. “And I was healed.”
And it wasn’t just politics for which Taylor was remembered.
Outside the theater, his aunt remembered his love of pandas — a fixation that he fed by regularly watching a live webcam of the rare animals at the zoo. His brother remembered when Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” came out in 1989, and Taylor spent two weeks deconstructing the lyrics that were a hodgepodge of cultural and historical references dating back to the ’40s. His friend from childhood, Tory Swink, remembered taking the bus to Salt Lake City in 1977 to see “Star Wars.” He was a cook, a music lover and movie fanatic.
His brother said all of the remembrances revealed Taylor’s purpose.
“I had no idea how big a heart my brother had for humanity and how much being fair to all was his motto,” he said. “Maybe if we all adopt his way of doing business, it would make for a better world. I believe the greatest gift a person can leave behind is their influence on their fellow man.”
As the pallbearers wheeled the casket out and his family left for his burial, those influences flowed steadily out of the theater in the form of candidates, political operatives and many friends.
“I think we’re all still learning from him,” his brother said. “I know I am.”