The internationally acclaimed author Theodore Langhans “Ted” Taylor died Oct. 26 at his Woods Cove home, with his wife, Flora, his three children and his stepdaughter at his side.
Family members and friends gathered Sunday at the Aliso Creek Golf Resort (a.k.a. Ben Brown’s) to rejoice in Taylor’s 85 years of life packed with adventure, accomplishments and, most of all, passion.
“The only one missing is my father,” said daughter Wendy Taylor Carroll, who welcomed guests to the celebration.
“If he was here, he would be wearing jeans, eating two cookies, which he shouldn’t, and drinking a glass of merlot, seated right next to his beloved Flora.”
“You are here as family, friends, neighbors or if you had a dog he liked.”
Frankly, Taylor never met a dog he didn’t like. And he was a familiar sight in Laguna for many, many years, walking one-after-another the dogs that shared his life. He was eternally grateful to one of his dogs, Burney, who introduced him to his wife-to-be in the midst of a dog fight on the beach more than 25 years ago.
Taylor also loved music, to which a young family friend, Ryan McGregor, paid homage in two musical interludes at the celebration.
Although family members said Taylor felt dogs could do no wrong, he wasn’t quite so lenient with the humans in his life.
“He was no saint,” said stepson Michael Schoenleber, speaking on behalf of his two siblings, Patricia Killoran of Tucson and Charlie Schoenleber of Carlsbad. “At times, he was a curmudgeon. He wrote scathing letters to editors, newspapers and even family members.”
Schoenleber paid tribute to his stepfather with fond remembrances of him as a craftsman of words, tappity-tapping away on the old-fashioned manual typewriters on which he wrote those sometimes caustic notes, as well more than 60 books, most of them during the 46-or-so years he lived in Laguna.
Taylor’s oldest son, Mark, and Schoenleber were schoolmates in Laguna, celebrating this year the 40th anniversary of their graduation from Laguna Beach High School.
Mark remembered his dad as a football fan of the Washington Redskins and a storyteller.
Wendy Carroll followed in her father’s footsteps as a writer.
“If I got stuck, I could always call him,” she said.
He always told her to go for the lead and the rest would follow.
“Today, I can’t find my lead anywhere,” Carroll said. “Mark painted a true picture of him, but there is a lot more.
“Life [for Taylor] was black and white. He never got the concept of gray. He loved chocolate and hated any vegetable that was remotely good for him.
“He loved to travel, and he and Flora did it with a vengeance,” Carroll said.
Island hopping for them was from Sri Lanka to the Scilly Isles of Great Britain.
“And he loved the sea — everything in it and everything on it.” Carroll said.
Her daughter Whitney recalled fishing with her grandfather when she was 11.
“I hated fish,” Wendy said. “I was a girlie girl, but that didn’t matter. He was happy; I was happy.”
Many of Taylor’s books, from his most famous to some lesser-known works, had sea settings: “The Cay,” “Air Raid-Pearl Harbor,” “Battle In the Arctic Seas,” “Battle Off Midway Island,” “HMS Hood Vs. Bismark,” “Battle in the English Channel,” “Rogue Waves and Other Red-Blooded Sea Stories” and “The Bomb.”
“It is a privilege to read letters from people whose lives were changed by my father’s words,” Carroll said.
Her daughter Caitlin said she believes as long as she has his books, her grandfather will never die.
Taylor’s youngest son, Michael, said it was a privilege to have been among his father’s first readers.
Author T. Jefferson Parker, a former Lagunan, paid his respects to the man and the writer.
“We had a running argument about the darkness in fiction,” said Parker, some of whose novels are definitely noir. “He chewed me out.”
But he also encouraged Parker. And Parker’s two sons each have a copy of the books written by Taylor and sent to them by the author.
Allyn Johnson, who worked with Taylor on 10 of his books published by Harcourt, said the road was not always smooth. Faxes he shot off in the heat of the moment are legendary at Harcourt.
Johnson is grateful that a rift that split their partnership was healed before his death.
Days before he died, Taylor was seated under an oak tree as his wife, Flora, tended the garden.
“He said, ‘This is what I am going to write about,’ ” she recalled. “That is what I will always remember.
“He was my friend, my lover and my husband.”
She asked guests to raise a glass of his favorite merlot in a toast to a life well lived.
“Keep him in your hearts,” Wendy Carroll said, as a kilted bagpiper played Taylor’s favorite, “Danny Boy.”
Guests included neighbors Susan Trager and Eric Norby, Rosaua Ulvestad, Irma Wolfson, Elsie Close, Madeleine McLendon, Alice Pyle and Dr. Thomas Judy; school board President Betsy Jenkins and Martha Lydick, president of the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library, which honored him for his contributions at their annual dinner two years ago.
Taylor also was the poster author for the Orange County Public Library Foundation in the early 1990s.
His love for books and the libraries that house them were reflected in the family’s request that memorial donations in his name be made to the Friends of the Laguna Beach Library in care of the bookshop, 363 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, 92651.